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Dr. Ireena Erteza–"Seeing" in the Dark

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

Meet Dr. Ireena Erteza

Distinguished Research and Development Electrical Engineer

Sandia National Laboratories

Her Work: Making SAR images using microwaves instead of light

Dr. Erteza was awarded 2017 Asian American Engineer of the Year She is a first generation American whose family comes from what is now Bangladesh.

Regular photographs taken from airplanes can give us a lot of information about Earth—its land, forests, oceans and more. But regular photos need light. Ireena Erteza is an engineer who works on SAR, Synthetic Aperture Radar. SAR is a way to take images at night or on cloudy days. SAR images show a lot of details, even if they are made from very high in the sky. That is because SAR makes images using microwaves instead of light.

SAR can be used to see how land changes when we pump water from underground. It can be used to map ice hazards or to see how farmers are using the land. The military can use SAR to help make decisions about how to protect us. Ireena and other engineers have even shot microwaves at the moon to help NASA search for ice there.

Ireena loves her work. She is always making new discoveries. She develops new SAR tools too. One challenge has been trying to make SAR easier and faster. That is hard to do. Humans cannot see the microwaves SAR uses. Ireena uses high level computer skills to help her turn microwave data into images we can use.

“Once you learn to make the standard example, imagine how you can make it different, better. The key is to create.”

A different kind of challenge Ireena has faced is dealing with assumptions about what a research engineer looks like. Some people are shocked when they meet Dr. Erteza. They know that Dr. Erteza is a distinguished engineer. Dr. Erteza leads research projects and speaks at conferences. But they never imagined that Dr. Erteza is woman. That she is person of color. It gets tiring having to face stereotypes.

Ireena wants everyone to know that engineers do not all look alike. She also wants everyone, especially girls, to know that becoming an engineer is not just hard work. It’s really fun and exciting! You get to be creative. You get to invent. You can use your STEM skills while working with others to help society.

And you can start now. Besides working on your school studies, start making things. Make art or crafts or videos. Just find something you are interested in and start. The Internet is full of amazing skills to learn. “Once you learn to make the standard example, imagine how you can make it different, better. The key is to create.”

Photo Credits

Dr. Erteza profile photo: permission by Sandia Laboratories

SAR diagram: permission by Sandia Laboratories

Diversity Illustration: This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Read this book to learn about engineers . . .


Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Engineers: With Stem Projects for Kids

By Diane Taylor

Hands-on STEM projects shine a light into the world of engineering and encourage kids ages 8 to 11 to learn about five female engineers who changed the way things work in this full-color book that teaches critical and creative thinking.

Have you crossed over a bridge today? Have you ridden an elevator to a top floor? Have you opened up a carton of milk? All of these things were made possible through engineering! In Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Engineers with STEM Projects for Kids, readers ages 8 to 11 meet five female engineers who revolutionized the role of women in engineering, including Ellen Swallow Richards, Emily Warren Roebling, Kate Gleason, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and Mary Jackson. Short sidebars highlight the accomplishments of contemporary female engineers and reveal the ways that women are finding success in engineering today, pointing the way for young people to imagine their place in engineering in the future.


. . . And visit these websites too!


#Iamanengineer is a site where can meet more diverse engineers. You canalso watch their video here.

Kids Invent Stuff is a YouTube channel where kids 8 - 11 get to see their invention ideas built by engineers. Tons of cool videos!

ICEYE uses SAR to track melting glaciers. Good examples of SAR images to look at.

ICEYE uses SAR to track deforestion. More good SAR images.

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