Danielle YoungSmith

Danielle YoungSmithBarnard College


This word has been the core of Danielle’s character for twenty-one years. Born to two aviation lawyers, one an Army pilot with a flare for adrenaline and the other a world citizen with insatiable wanderlust, Dani was raised for adventure that pushes her to her limits. She treats the world as her classroom and the classroom as her playground where friendships are born, lessons learned firsthand, and collaborative feats accomplished. There is little room for idling in Dani’s life, as she grew up with the notion that “if you’re bored, it’s your own d*** fault!”

This zeal for living and learning has driven Dani to design her own astrobiology major at Barnard, an endeavor that integrates lessons from each piece of her life into her studies. Her science courses are brought to life through research experience with molecular biology and astrophysics at NASA Ames, astronomy at Kitt Peak National Observatory, and geochemistry at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Teaching marine conservation was a way to practice zero-gravity spacewalks SCUBA diving in the shark tanks of the Denver Aquarium, and she is building up flight hours toward eventually applying for the Astronaut Corps. She spent two weeks this winter living and working in a simulated Martian Habitat where she conducted field research to analyze the effects of the harsh “Martian” environment on algal and bacterial communities to better understand limits of habitability. She has presented this and her Ames biology work as the sole undergraduate at the international Search for Life beyond the Solar System conference in Tucson, Arizona. She thrives on these experiences and opportunities to interact and collaborate with others in and around the field, and she looks forward to more time doing so at the Ames Academy.

The most attractive part of studying astrobiology to Dani is its vastly interdisciplinary nature both within and beyond science. From microbiology to planetary science, philosophy to business, astrobiology has helped Dani to foster her theater and Speech and Debate skills as well as confounded her with cosmological theory. She looks forward to becoming a part of the Academy, to growing as a leader, a researcher, a professional, and as herself. The Academy will help her build a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of NASA’s own exploration missions to determine where her exploratory expertise can best contribute to mission design, execution, and success.

Dani relishes placing herself beyond her comfort zone, seeking adventure both interpersonally and geographically, from the pulsing neon lights of Burning Man to the cave dwellings of Cappadocia (better known as Tatooine) to the Bedouin desert camps of Jordan. Her sights are set skyward for her next adventure.