National Geographic Explorers Clare Fieseler and Gabby Salazar on Their Book No Boundaries

National Geographic Explorers Clare Fieseler and Gabby Salazar on Their Book No Boundaries

Often, when we think about women in science, we think of pioneering scientists from the past. While the early trailblazers need to honored, it is equally necessary to look to the present for inspiration, to educate new scientists that it takes a diverse group of people to develop, investigate, and study our planet. No Boundaries, an anthology co-authored National Geographic Explorers Clare Fieseler and Gabby Salazar and tracing the amazing life stories of 25 female explorers and scientists, provides such inspiration.

We spoke with Fieseler and Salazar to learn about their scientific backgrounds and readers expect from No Boundaries: Adventures, Inspiration, and Advice from 25 Women Explorers and Scientists so, what exactly do you do? Gabby Salazar: My name is Gabby Salazar, and I am a National Geographic Explorer, Conservation Photographer, and University of Florida Doctoral Candidate.

Clare Fieseler: I am a National Geographic Explorer, as well as an ecologist, journalist, and Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellow. What prompted you to write your latest album, No Boundaries? Gabby Salazar: I have always been interested in research and adventure, but I did not know much about science jobs or women in science now when I was younger. The majority of the female scientists I knew were from the past. I was motivated to write this book because I want to contribute to the advancement of science and exploration by giving realistic role models and exposing children to a variety of science jobs.

Clare Fieseler: The book was born out of personal frustration for me. In April 2013, I picked up the most recent edition of National Geographic, which was nearly exclusively devoted to the topic of de-extinction, or the reintroduction of extinct species. The editors had placed headshots of all the specialists who had interviewed about this topic on one page, and one thing stood out to me: there was only one woman among over a dozen people.

I poured into a number of issues over the next two weeks and started a tally sheet. I was surprised to see that women highlighted as experts and explorers fewer than 20% of the time in that issue and two dozen others from the period. Then I saw a report from the Women’s Media Center, which showed similar figures in all news outlets at the time. Gabby and I were inspired by this discovery to want to do something to better spotlight women scientists for the demographic we believed mattered most: young readers.

Can you share a favorite passage from the book with us? Dr. Asha de Vos, a Sri Lankan marine biologist, got a position on a research mission to study whales near Sri Lanka, and her story has impressed me much. When Asha contacted the expedition, she told that there was no room for her. She refused to accept no for an answer and wrote to the team every day for three months until she persuaded them to hire her as a deckhand (not even as a scientist).

They only gave her one day to go to the Maldives so she could join the adventure. She somehow made it! She finally hired as a science intern, where she assisted in some spectacular findings regarding blue whales in the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka, which helped establish her career. Much of her current work focuses on making marine science more inclusive and ensuring that experts from the locations where research conducted are active participants.

Clare Fieseler: I am Clare Fieseler, and I am a first-time mother. So, at this point in my life, Dr. Sarah Stewart Johnson’s tale is the one that most resonates with me. She is an astrobiologist with experience working on several Mars rover missions. Her job is figuring out the best ways to detect the presence of previous or present Martian life. Sarah had to miss some of the most exciting recent moments of Mars exploration when she opted to start a family.

She was fatigued and taking her newborn boy home from the hospital on the day the rover Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, while all her colleagues were at NASA rejoicing. She had severe misgivings about her ability to be a mother and an astrobiologist. She was determined to make it work when an opportunity to fly to Iceland and test extraterrestrial life-detecting gear arose five years later. She eventually brought her five-year-old kid onto the field with her. She included him in the mission. Sarah’s photograph of her son, dressed in his snow bib and gazing out over his mother’s field site in one of Iceland’s most remote areas, is my favorite in the book.