ASU physics alumna named Brooke Owens Fellow

April 4, 2019

Angelica Berner is one of 2019's new class of Brooke Owens Fellows.

The “Brookies,” as they are affectionately called, are exceptional undergraduate women in aerospace and are selected for the award based on their talent, experience, leadership, professionalism and commitment to serving their communities. Newest Brookie Angelica Berner will be working at DigitalGlobe, and was matched with former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski as her executive-level mentor. Photo courtesy of Angelica Berner.

Berner, who graduated from Arizona State University in December 2018, is one of 38 women awarded this fellowship for 2019.

Each is paired with a 12-week summer internship at a leading aerospace organization and partnered with executive-level mentors in their field.

Berner will be working at DigitalGlobe in Westminster, Colorado.

“I was recently matched with Scott Parazynski, a former NASA astronaut — among a lot of other amazing things — as my executive level mentor,” Berner said. “I'm looking forward to working with him on developing the next steps I'd like to take in my career.”

Berner will also join other fellows for the Brooke Owens Fellowship Summit during the summer. The summit will feature team projects, one-on-one mentoring sessions and Q&As with congresswomen, astronauts, CEOs and company founders.

“Interacting with the other fellows has been phenomenal — it's extraordinary how much talent is in this group,” Berner said. “It's also nice to have a group of people who have similar experiences as they begin their careers!”

The fellowship was created to support and inspire talented professional women in aerospace and named for acclaimed pilot Dawn Brooke Owens, a much-beloved expert and pioneer in the space industry. After Owen’s passing at the age of 35 from breast cancer, the fellowship was created to honor her legacy by three of her close friends: Lori Garver, former deputy administrator of NASA; Cassie Lee, former head of space programs for Paul G. Allen; and William Pomerantz, the vice president of special projects at Virgin Orbit.

The fellowship is highly competitive and draws hundreds of applicants at more than 125 universities in 13 nations. Berner described the multistep application process as, "unlike anything she had experienced before."

“(The fellowship) encourages each applicant to not only introduce their ‘on paper’ self but to delve deep into who they are outside of their education/career,” she said.

After an intense process of interviews with various leaders in the aerospace industry, Berner received a call from one of the founders to tell her that she had been selected.

“She was very patient and enthusiastic as I told her how excited and humbled I was (and still am) to have received the opportunity!” Berner said. 

“As I prepare for my internship at DigitalGlobe, I'm beyond excited to have the opportunity to work in the aerospace industry with such an awesome company!"

Berner grew up in Chicago, and graduated from ASU as The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalist for the Department of Physics.

During her undergraduate experience, she joined biophysics Assistant Professor Sara Walker’s research lab, doing computational modeling. She contributed to a paper that appeared in a 2017 Entropy Magazine Special Issue: “Physical Universality, State-Dependent Dynamical Laws and Open-Ended Novelty.”

She participated in the ASU/Nasa Space Grant for two years and completed a summer internship at the NASA Langley Research Center.

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences


Can social media breaks make you more productive?

April 4, 2019

This coming football season, the Arizona Cardinals will take social media breaks every 20 minutes during meetings. While Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s decision might seem counterproductive — at least according to the reaction of sports commentators — scientists who study attention laud it as a step in the right direction.

Arizona State University’s Matt Robison, a postdoctoral scholar in the Memory and Attention Control Lab is an expert on sustained attention. Matt Robison Arizona State University’s Matt Robison, a postdoctoral scholar in the Memory and Attention Control Lab is an expert on sustained attention. Photo by Robert Ewing, ASU Department of Psychology Download Full Image

“Whenever you ask someone to do a task for a long period of time, their performance tends to suffer the longer that they spend on that task,” Robison said. “Meetings are a perfect example.”

The prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain behind the forehead — is thought to be responsible for the ability to focus and pay attention. But, a tiny brain area called the locus coeruleus, or LC for short, works with the prefrontal cortex and plays an important role in how people pay attention. The LC is located deep in the brainstem and is only about a centimeter in size. Neurons in the LC release norepinephrine throughout the entire brain, which contributes to how alert and attentive people are.

Robison wants to know how the LC contributes to sustained attention. He is testing how the LC might interact with brain areas and networks of brain areas involved in attention. To do this, Robison uses electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brain’s electrical activity from regions like the prefrontal cortex. He tracks where people look and the size of their pupil as an indirect way to track what the LC is doing when people pay attention or become distracted.

When people participate in a task that requires a high level of attention, Robison finds the EEG and pupil size signals degrade as time passes, which suggest the LC might not be connecting well with the prefrontal cortex and other brain attention networks. When Robison sets up experiments designed to create mental fatigue, people report feeling less alert and less motivated to keep paying attention. But when people can take breaks, Robison finds their performance on the task recovers quickly, and so do the EEG and pupil size signals.

“There are published studies suggesting that breaks are a good strategy to maintain attention,” said Robison. “Coach Kingsbury might be on to something.”

Robison does not think the implementation of social media breaks suggests problems with attention for a specific generation. He said the availability of distractions has increased though. Social media usage has never been higher, with over 79% of Americans actively using social media for over 3 hours a day on average.

“The attention systems of each generation are largely the same, and so are the attentional abilities,” Robison said. “This generation growing up today has much more at their disposal to distract them, like cell-phones, television and the internet. All these things are now available at the drop of a hat.”

Sustained attention was as much of a problem when Kurt Warner was quarterback as it is today.

“If we can design our education and work spaces while recognizing that sustained attention is difficult for everyone, we can optimize our learning and productivity just by designing around our natural limitations,” Robison said. 

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology