Byron L. Wood (1946-2004)

Byron L. Wood, a former senior research scientist with the Ecosystem Science and Technology Branch (Code SGE), passed away on 5 February at his parents' home in Folsom, California. He was 57. He will be deeply missed by his many friends and colleagues, both here at Ames, and by those with whom he worked around the world. Byron, who came to Ames in 1982 as a contractor, became a Civil Servant in 1997, and remained with Code SGE until he left Ames in 2003.

Byron began his career in remote sensing at U.C. Berkeley in 1979, where he was an assistant specialist with the Remote Sensing Research Program. While there, he worked on NASA's AgRISTARS program, focusing on crop identification and field estimates using satellite data. This work took him to Argentina and other South American countries, where he fell in love with travel. In 1982, Byron came to work at NASA Ames as a contractor with Technicolor Government Services (later Johnson Controls), where he put his agricultural remote sensing experience to use on the Irrigated Lands Project.

In 1985, Byron found his true calling at NASA when he began work on the Global Monitoring and Human Health (GMHH) program. This program, a collaboration between NASA Ames, U.C. Davis, the Mexican Ministry of Health, and others, focused on using NASA science and technologies to model mosquito habitat distribution for use in models of malaria transmission risk. Following the successful demonstration in California ricefields of this "high tech" approach to disease mapping, the team then launched a large field campaign in Chiapas, Mexico, where malaria transmission is a health concern.

In 1995, Byron took the techniques developed in the GMHH program further by forming CHAART, the Center for Health Applications of Aerospace Related Technologies, at Ames. CHAART's purpose was to use the expertise acquired from the GMHH program to expand disease modeling to other vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, leishmaniasis, filariasis, and schistosomiasis. His love of travel, begun in Argentina, was an important asset in his new role as CHAART Director, as his duties took him to various "disease hotspots" around the world, including Mali, Bangladesh, China, Peru, Australia, and Brazil. Byron initiated a Memorandum of Understanding between Ames and the National Institutes of Health, as well as collaborations with the World Bank, NOAA's Office of Global Programs, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These joint projects enabled NASA to demonstrate how remote sensing and geographic information system technologies could be integrated with case data, vector data, landscape variables, and other epidemiologic factors to answer research questions, aid with disease surveillance, and focus control activities.

A high point of Byron's career was when he organized the Global Health Issues seminar for the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), which took place in Vienna, Austria, in 1999. Another milestone was his work with Dr. Rita Colwell that demonstrated the utility of remotely sensed data for predicting cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh. This important work was subsequently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Byron served on several panels, including the National Science and Technology Council, Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology Working Group on Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases; the NOAA Working Group on Health Consequences of El Niño Southern Oscillation, Climate and Health; and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis Working Group on Ecology of Infectious Disease.

Byron succeeded in elevating public health research and applications within NASA and initiating important and productive interdisciplinary collaborations with major national and international scientists through his personal devotion and acumen. In addition to his many publications in prestigious journals, his impact continues to grow, as others are now following the path he blazed--a true measure of one's impact on his field.

Outside of work, Byron's major passion was following the ups (and often downs) of Cal football. A season ticket holder for nearly 30 years, he often planned his travel around their football schedule, particularly the Big Game with Stanford. He had many friends from his years at Berkeley, where he received his M.A. in geography in 1977, and was subsequently advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. Byron also taught remote sensing courses at Berkeley, as well as at colleges throughout the Bay Area.

Byron is survived by his mother, Dorothy Wood, of Folsom, and his wife Herlinda and son Nathaniel, of San Jose. A memorial service was held on 9 September 2004 at NASA Ames Research Center; a webcast of the event will be online for a short period. Contact Brad Lobitz (blobitz[at]] for details.

Back to the CHAART home page