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Women's History Month: Dr. Judith L. Lean, Ph.D. and Dr. Banahalli R. Ratna, Ph.D.

Navy leaders and pioneers

"From the Revolutionary War to current conflicts, women have played a crucial role in the security of our nation and the success of the U.S. Navy. Join us as we celebrate Women's History Month by profiling women leaders and pioneers across the Navy."

This is a graphic of Lean

Dr. Judith L. Lean, Ph.D. is currently serving as a Senior Scientist for Sun Earth Research PhDs at Naval Research Laboratory.

Q: Why did you decide to serve the Navy?

A: The Space Science Division of the Naval Research Laboratory conducts pioneering space science research, beginning with the launch of solar instruments on V2 rockets in the late 1950s and then on satellites and subsequently Skylab in the 1970s. I accepted an invitation to join NRL in the mid 1980s, inspired by the opportunity to work with SSD scientists who build and operate sophisticated state-of-the-art space-based instruments to investigate both the Sun and Earth (and everything in between!). I felt privileged then, and still feel privileged, to work in the world-renowned SSD at NRL. My initial assignment at NRL - which continued until 1993 - was the calibration, testing, integration, in-fight operation and analysis and interpretation of measurements made by a new solar spectral irradiance monitor on-board NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite.

Q: Who have your role models or mentors been that have influenced you or helped to guide you?

A: Before ever visiting the USA, as a graduate student in Australia, I learned of NRL's reputation for sustained scientific excellence from my Professor at the University of Adelaide; he had spent a year on sabbatical at NRL, working in ion chambers, whose development the SSD pioneered for measurements of upper atmosphere composition. Added to the positive influence of my professor was the knowledge that some excellent female scientists worked at NRL. The two of whom I was aware at that time were Drs. Elaine Oran and Dianne Prinz.

When working at NRL one finds mentors everywhere! There are so many excellent, talented scientists with whom to consult and collaborate and from whom to seek guidance.

Q: Please tell us a story about someone, perhaps in your family or otherwise, who has influenced you or challenged you to become more than you ever thought you might.

A: I don't recall ever actually thinking that there might be limitations to what I might become, a mindset attributable directly to my parents, especially my mother. They considered education mandatory for gainful employment, with physics and mathematics being the penultimate subjects. They impressed upon their four daughters that education is a ticket to "anywhere" and, accompanied by working and studying hard, it is the basis for a successful life. Physicists in general are well known for thinking they can do anything and everything. My husband, who is also a physicist and an NRL emeritus employee, epitomizes this approach, and is a perpetual positive (and grounding) influence about the ups and downs of the scientific research process.

Q: Please tell us which past assignments are the most memorable to you and why.

A: The pursuit of new scientific understanding in support of myriad Naval Operations continually motivates SSD research that is perpetually memorable, whether calibrating and operating space hardware, analyzing and interpreting observations from space-based instruments, writing journal papers describing new results or presenting these results to other scientists, the public and government personnel. Two memorable "team" efforts are the first six years of my career at NRL, working on the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, and more recently, leading a team of a dozen or more SSD and PPD scientists to better understand, specify and model the integrated Sun-Earth system. Current investigations of the extended operational environment, in which Navy assets operate, now includes climate change, motivated by the Navy's Task Force Climate Change and increasing awareness of the potential security implications of climate change.

Q: What does being a leader in the Navy mean to you?

A: The designation "leader" is somewhat antithetical to me since I consider myself to be part of a team of clever and dedicated NRL scientists who delight in their work daily. Maybe after advancing (and aging) during 28 years (thus far) as an NRL employee, one becomes a defacto scientific leader because everyone is younger and has fewer years on the job! My job now as Senior Scientist for Sun-Earth System Research in SSD is to integrate and facilitate research of the extended operational environment by engaging and collaborating with multidisciplinary scientists. To act always with integrity and fairness, and to respect everyone, is perhaps the best type of leadership - a good laugh - and having fun! - goes a long way too!