Dr. Mountrakis is the recipient of the prestigious New Investigator Award from NASA’s Earth Science Division. Every two years NASA invites proposals from untenured faculty to address novel research questions related to NASA’s mission (similar to NSF’s CAREER award). Proposals compete from all Earth Science Programs and a very limited number is selected. PIs are expected to demonstrate a substantial educational component integrated with the proposed research activities.
In 2008 Dr. Mountrakis’ proposal titled “Satellite-derived anthropogenic land use/land cover changes: Integrating detection, modeling and educational approaches” was awarded. A major research goal is to integrate remote sensing classifiers with ancillary data and models. More specifically, he is looking into the integration of urban growth models in remotely sensed urban monitoring tasks. By doing so, previous urban change patterns are taken into account from prior monitoring activities. This is expected to lead to increased monitoring capabilities and prediction. Relevant publications are available here.
The educational component of this grant emphasizes the integration of inquiry-based learning (IBL) in remote sensing courses. In IBL students are offered an open problem where they formulate hypotheses, assess their findings, and fine-tune their approach. In Spring 2010 undergraduate students undertook a semester-long IBL experiment, where they had to design, build, test and successfully launch a platform to acquire vertical and side-looking imagery. The IBL experiment engaged students in remote sensing technology while improving critical professional skills associated with collaborative work. The student sensor obtained images and videos (+1000) from an altitude up to 90,000 feet and attracted attention from the University community and local media (see here for more information).