Eyes on the bigger picture

March 22, 2023

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Around five years back, Chaity gave up on preparing for the BCS exam. Today, she is a prominent member of the Landsat 9 (a satellite launched by NASA) Calibration and Validation team.

As a young girl growing up in Narsingdi, Bangladesh, Manisha Das Chaity was always fascinated by brilliant engineers and scientists from different corners of the world. Unsurprisingly, she also wanted to become one when she grew up.

“But in a place where BCS is often the family’s priority, it seemed like a challenging dream,” said Chaity.

Nevertheless, because of her unwavering determination, Chaity is now a PhD student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, US, and a prominent member of the Landsat 9 Calibration and Validation team.

The team is responsible for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the data collected by Landsat 9 – a satellite launched by NASA – through calibration, verification, and data processing. The team recently won the prestigious Robert H Goddard Award from NASA.

Chaity graduated with a Bachelor’s in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Khulna University of Engineering & Technology in 2017. After graduation, she seriously considered sitting for the BCS exams, but realised that it wasn’t the right path for her. “After studying Bangla literature and Bangladesh constitution for around a month, I realised those were not for me,” she said.

Manisha Das Chaity. Illustration: TBS

Instead, she began preparing for higher studies abroad and received a scholarship to pursue an MS in Electrical Engineering at South Dakota State University (SDSU), US. She later joined a professor’s team as a research assistant. After completing her MS in 2021, she applied for a PhD in Imaging Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she is currently enrolled.

Chaity got involved with the Landsat Cal/Val team thanks to her research on optical satellite calibration, funded by the US Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Centre.

The USGS EROS works closely with NASA. NASA leads the development and launch of each Landsat satellite, and USGS manages the Landsat data.

Landsat has multiple uses in business, agriculture, security, and ecosystem monitoring. It can detect deforestation and estimate soil moisture to help farmers optimise irrigation.

During natural disasters, Landsat can quickly identify impacted zones and generate maps, making it a crucial tool for saving lives. Therefore, high-quality satellite images are vital for such sensitive applications.

Chaity, under the supervision of her professor at SDSU, developed a hyperspectral absolute calibration model to address the deteriorating quality of satellite images due to the extreme weather conditions of space.

By inputting a satellite image and obtaining its reflected value, the team can reproduce more accurate images with up to 97% accuracy, which is considered to be a good level of accuracy for satellite data measurement.

Chaity’s research focuses on developing accurate and efficient algorithms for processing satellite data and advancing the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in remote sensing.

She is currently working on a NASA-funded project to measure the biodiversity hotspot zones in South Africa using imaging science. South Africa is home to a rich diversity of species, some of which are at risk of extinction.

Their focus is on an area where 30 different vegetation species can be found in a 5×5 metre space and those species are endemic to that region. NASA is interested in taking action to protect these species, and the team is working to protect the biodiversity of this hotspot.

Chaity believes that satellite data will be used for more advanced applications in the future, such as monitoring climate change, predicting natural disasters, and assessing the impact of human activities on the environment.

Before going to KUET for her Bachelor’s, Chaity went to Narsingdi Government Girls School and Narsingdi Government College, following in the footsteps of two of her elder sisters who went to the same school and college.

For aspiring students who want to study abroad, Chaity advises searching the internet for professors working in relevant fields, approaching them personally, and networking with other researchers. She also suggests attending conferences and seeking mentorship and support from experienced professionals.

Outside of work, Chaity enjoys travelling, driving, and photography. To achieve a healthy work-life balance, she usually tries to disconnect from work during weekends and holidays, allowing her to recharge and enjoy her personal life.

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