Louisa R. Beck (1952-2004)

The following appeared in the November 2004 Astrogram newsletter:

Louisa R. Beck, a senior research scientist with Ames' Ecosystem Science and Technology Branch (Code SGE), passed away on 16 Oct. She was 52. In 2001, Beck was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her courage and resolve in battling this disease was an inspiration for all who knew her.

Beck began her career in remote sensing while she was a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley's Department of Geography. She came to NASA Ames in the late 1970s to work on the AgRISTARS program, which used satellite data in identifying crops and field estimates.

From 1986 to 1989, Beck was a research associate at the Arizona Remote Sensing Center at the University of Arizona at Tucson. Here, Beck’s affinity with the desert landscape was fulfilled. For her, the sun, sand and open spaces represented all that was unassailable in nature and in life.

Beck returned to NASA Ames in 1990 as a contractor with Technicolor Government Services (later Johnson Controls World Services) to work on the Global Monitoring and Human Health (GMHH) program. This interagency collaborative program used NASA science and technologies to model mosquito habitat distribution for use in models of malaria transmission risk. With Byron Wood, Beck transferred the knowledge gained from the GMHH program into the formation of the Center for Health Applications of Aerospace Related Technologies (CHAART) at Ames in 1995. CHAART’s purpose was to expand disease modeling to other vector-borne maladies such as Lyme disease, leishmaniasis, filariasis and schistosomiasis. In the course of her work with CHAART, Beck traveled extensively throughout the world.

Beck was a pioneer in the area of public health and landscape epidemiology. For nearly 20 years, she collaborated with many international partners and organizations in the field of public health research. As a co-founder of CHAART, she had much influence on NASA Headquarters programs in both Code U (biological and physical research) and Code Y (Earth science). Her publications were well respected and often cited. In recent years, her work was acknowledged in journals such as Emerging Infectious Diseases, Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, and Journal of Medical Entomology to support the application of her ideas in Asia, Africa and South America. She was especially proud of and committed to inspiring the next generation of public health researchers through student collaboration and mentorship. Visiting researchers and students who trained at the CHAART facility received her attention both in and out of the lab. Beck often served as a tour guide to local points of interest or to favorite restaurants. Most visitors were transported in her battered but beloved yellow VW Bug to and from Ames, to San Francisco or a nearby art festival, or simply to run errands. For Beck, these tasks were not just part of the job: by assisting the facility’s students and visitors, Beck assured their inclusion into the extended CHAART family.

In the past year, Beck received two well-deserved awards in recognition of her work: the Presidential Rank and NASA Honor Award for Exceptional Achievement and an Ames Honor Award for Excellence in the category of scientist/researcher.

Beck was an avid gardener. Completing the master gardener’s program out of U.C. Extension, she identified most plants by their botanical names. Pedestrian terms like ‘daisy’ or ‘marigold’ were not part of her vocabulary, nor were such plants a part of her garden. She was particularly fond of salvias and her backyard was a display of the many varieties of this hardy plant. She appreciated their durability and adaptability in the local landscape, as well as their beneficence to hummingbirds. For bees and butterflies there was a fair representation of native plants and, as a reminder of the desert, there was a vast array of cacti and succulents. She was an avid bird watcher, both in her back yard as well as at Ames. A pair of binoculars sat on her desk, ready to identify a possible red tail hawk or even a golden eagle as it flew outside her office window. Her love of wildlife included her championing several causes for the protection and well being of animals. At home, she loved and cared for her succession of cats, beginning with Mr. Spot and Sonia, and later Rajah and Moses.

Beck is survived by her brother, Stephan Beck and his family and a sister. The memorial service for Beck will be held on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 2:00 p.m. at the Fernwood Cemetary in Mill Valley. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Nature Conservancy, Attn: Treasury, 4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203, (800) 628-6820. Beck will be deeply missed by her many friends and colleagues here and around the world.

-- by Gailynne Bouret

Back to the CHAART home page