Dr. Hannah Kerner -- NASA Harvest’s U.S. Domestic Lead and Machine Learning expert -- has been named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 List in the Science category as one of today’s top young academic leaders, inspiring confidence in the future of our world’s food availability. Each year as part of the 30 Under 30 List, Forbes recognizes early-career scientists who are stepping up to solve some of the most challenging issues presently facing humankind. Dr. Kerner is one of those young scientists, with her sights set on advancing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology using Earth observing satellites to help bolster food security around the world.
“What I love about both coding and satellites is that they enable you to build tools that reach people all over the world. My goal is to use these tools to help solve the world’s most pressing challenges, including food security, climate change, natural hazards and disasters, and space exploration,” says Dr. Kerner.
Dr. Kerner received her B.S. in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, during which she worked at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the NASA Langley Research Center. After graduating, Dr. Kerner went on to develop onboard software for the world’s largest constellation of imaging satellites at Planet, Inc. She then went on to earn her PhD at Arizona State University where she developed new methods for facilitating scientific discovery in planetary exploration investigations on Mars, the Moon, and Earth using machine learning. During this time, she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory under a fellowship with the Machine Learning and Instrument Autonomy group.,. She currently works as an Assistant Research Professor at The University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences, home to the NASA Harvest Consortium which is NASA’s Food Security and Agriculture Program in the NASA Applied Sciences division. In her role as the U.S. Domestic Lead and resident AI and ML expert for NASA Harvest, Dr. Kerner uses machine learning and satellite data to monitor crops, inform climate mitigation strategies, and identify potential natural disasters, innovatively applying these technologies to create operational systems for monitoring agriculture and food security globally.
She has worked on a wide range of projects for the consortium, identifying many ways that remotely-sensed satellite data can be used to better inform agricultural practices, government policies, and decision-support tools. For example, earlier this year she worked with NASA Harvest partners at Planet, Inc. to support the Government of Togo in their COVID-19-related food security relief efforts by creating a cropland map, at 10-meter resolution, of the entire country. The resulting crop maps helped to inform policy makers on how agricultural aid should be distributed to support smallholder farmers, filling existing data gaps due to lack of ground access as a result of pandemic restrictions on movement -- you can read more about this project here.
Back in August, she was critical to NASA Harvest’s rapid response to the need for widespread analysis of crop damage caused to agricultural fields throughout Iowa due to a devastating derecho. Using her expertise in machine learning for remote sensing data, she helped produce satellite-based maps of the damaged fields, providing decision-makers with necessary data to better understand the extent of the damage and the potential impact on food production in the region (learn more here). She is currently leading a project funded by NASA’s Rapid Response and Novel Research in Earth Science (RRNES) program that aims to use Earth observation data to provide information on the condition and progress of crops in major food-producing countries in the midst of the global pandemic.
In 2018, Dr. Kerner received the Google Women Techmakers award for her efforts to promote opportunities and equality for women in computer science, including volunteering with non-profits Girls Who Code and Women in Machine Learning. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for the non-profit Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS-USA) as well as the faculty advisor for the SEDS chapter at UMD. She is also dedicated to promoting education and research opportunities for currently and previously incarcerated individuals by teaching STEM courses in prisons and mentoring scholars in the From Prison Cells to PhD program.
These are just a few examples of the impactful work that Dr. Kerner has contributed to in an effort to use today’s most advanced technology to improve food availability and protect against food disasters globally. “We are very proud to have Hannah as part of the NASA Harvest team and are thrilled for her well-deserved recognition by Forbes. Hannah is a key member of NASA Harvest and is driving impactful solutions through advancing applications of machine learning and satellite data to address critical aspects of agricultural monitoring and food security. She is among a special class of young individuals who are paving the way for a healthier and more equitable world,” says Dr. Inbal Becker-Reshef (NASA Harvest Program Director).