Hannah Bäck

Hannah Bäck, Undergraduate student, data science

Detects lake health remotely

“Hannah has been a fantastic undergraduate researcher, one of my top students ever.”– Susan Meerdink

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Faculty mentor/advisor: Susan Meerdink, PhD, assistant professor, geographical and sustainability sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

What is your degree program and anticipated graduation date?
B.S. Data Science, August 2024

Please describe your research:
I am developing ways to remotely detect harmful algal blooms in lakes. By quantifying “greenness” of images through digital processing, we hope to be able to tell if there is an algal bloom in progress without actually being there in person. I am comparing different data sources and processing methods to find out what works best, using trail camera images and satellite imagery.

In simple terms, why does this research matter?
Harmful algal blooms are becoming more common each year and can impact human health. Remote sensing methods are cost effective and could allow more bodies of water to be monitored. I am evaluating different imagery and algorithms to find the most promising methods given our current capabilities. This will provide direction for further research.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research?
I began research at the University during my first semester, right after transferring from community college.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa?
Research has given me a chance to use what I am learning in the classroom. The best way to get better at programming is through practice, and working through these difficult problems has made me more capable and confident. This experience has also made me more invested in my classwork– I often am asking myself “How could what I am learning now be applied to my research question?”.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school and continue with a research career in environmental science. I hope to obtain a PHD in geography with my research focused on biodiversity.

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