Growing up in a small town in New Mexico, Elisa Quintana didn’t even think about science. She grew up in a household that did not stress the importance of math and science. It was not until community college that she realized she liked math, and ended up transferring to the University of California, San Diego to pursue a degree in physics.

“I was a late bloomer,” says Elisa. “Because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, it took me six years to complete my undergraduate work.”

Elisa now works for NASA, studying planets.

“I am most interested in finding planets like Earth around other stars,” says Elisa. “Ones that have the right size and orbit to be able to sustain liquid water, a prerequisite for life as we know it.”

Elisa spends a large portion of her time on her laptop, working on computer algorithms that can sift through massive amounts of data to locate planets that could potentially be habitable. She also works on computer models to simulate how these planets might have formed.

“I feel like I am lucky to live in an age where humans can actually start to answer the question of, ‘Are we alone?'”, says Elisa.

Author

Derek Lartaud

Derek Lartaud came to the Bay Area after nearly five years of researching schizophrenia and diabetes at Yale University. Determined to tell visual stories, he’s worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera America, TIME, PBS, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. He has a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in journalism. When not holding a camera or editing a story, he’s trying to rebuild his 1969 Honda CL350.

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