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Grace Gao's Compass Points

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Engineering Specialties
Signal processing

Her Compass Points

  • My parents in Harbin and my husband, David Varodayan
  • My mentors and colleagues in the Stanford GPS Lab and supportive friends of all kinds
  • Stanford University, a place full of new ideas and excitement

Favorite Equations
(See equation at the top of this article)

Year She Began Working in GNSS
2005 — Her team struggled to make a high gain GPS antenna in a lab class: “We made a lot of antennas of different types. None of them worked! I learned to appreciate failures and to grow from them.”

Fell In Love With GNSS. . .
. . . when she started decoding GIOVE-A signals with Professor Per Enge at Stanford.“The signal structure was unknown and the received signal power was weak. . . it was a great challenge.”

Events That Most Signify GNSS Has Arrived
Launches of GIOVE-A, the first Galileo test satellite, in 2005 and China’s first Compass MEO satellite in 2007.

Memorable Mentor
Professor Hu Zhiming, her calculus teacher at China’s Tsinghua University: “He really cared about students. It was a big class, about 200 students. He remembered every student’s name and ID number, and even the mistakes the students made in their homework. He showed me the beauty of math and the various applications in engineering. I learned about Fourier transform for the first time in his class.”

Influences of Engineering Outside Work
“I enjoy fixing things at home, such as my vacuum cleaner.”

Favorite Non-GNSS Activities
Tennis, snowboarding, traveling, and beading.

Special Interest
Gao seeks to encourage girls to pursue engineering by hosting workshops on GPS in the Sally Ride Science Festival at NASA Ames where she uses games to convey basic concepts such as trilateration. “I feel sad that some talented girls hide their math skills and give up on science/engineering, because it’s considered ‘uncool’ or ‘not-for-girls.’”

Grace Gao’s web page:
BBC video of the Ice Disneyland in Harbin, China — Gao’s hometown:

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