If you could do anything for a living, what would it be?
I wanted to be an astronaut. I was in love with the space program as a kid, but I couldn’t do the math to go into engineering — I had to find something else that didn’t require algebra and calculus.
When and where were you happiest in your life?
When I was about 10 years old, flying my kite on the beach. I remember finding a message in a corked wine bottle when I was looking for shells there and running home to get a corkscrew. I wrote back, and I remember being very happy.
Who or what has had the greatest impact on the person you’ve become?
My high school science teacher, Bill Carlock. When I was a poor student in high school, he gave me interesting science projects that had visual illusions. He motivated me to study and that was a pathway to my goal of becoming a scientist.
What do you like most about yourself?
That I’m someone who is able to get things done.
If you could travel anywhere you wanted today, where would you go?
I’d like to go to the [International] Space Station.
Describe the most beautiful place you’ve ever been.
The Australian outback. I flew over it a few years ago, heading south from Darwin, in a little tiny plane. I was in the co-pilot seat. Maybe the outback isn’t exactly beautiful, but it’s just — wow, I can’t believe how big it is. It’s meaningful because it got me to thinking about how we use this land and one way is grazing animals. You can’t grow crops there, but why not raise food?
When you’re restless or unhappy, what do you do to improve your mood?
In my 20s, when I got nervous, I would make sure to get home at 4 p.m. to watch Star Trek. Now, I make sure to get a certain amount of exercise every day.
Current guilty pleasure?
Dark chocolate candy with raspberry filling.
Who or what in life brings you the most joy?
I feel a lot of joy when my students do really well.
If a song played whenever you entered a room, what would it be?
Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.