Center Snapshot: Cara Leckey
Image Above: Cara Leckey of NASA Langley's Non-Desctructive Evaluation Branch stands near a composite X-ray machine. Leckey uses the X-ray images to determine if any internal damage exist. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
According to Myers-Briggs, only 2.1 percent of the world's adult population falls into the personality category of INTJ (introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment), making it an uncommon personality type.
Yet, of all the fish in the sea, Cara Leckey of NASA Langley's Non-Destructive Evaluation Branch, managed to marry a fellow INTJ. Her husband, John, is a physicist at Jefferson Lab in Newport News. As one could imagine, science is a consistent topic of conversation in their lives.
"It helps that we can bounce ideas off of one another," Leckey said, smiling. "Our conversations sometimes drive us to do more research — especially when we are trying to prove each other wrong.
"But we also have a greater appreciation for each other because of it."
They met on the first day of college at the University of Mary Washington while playing a game of Frisbee with a group of people outside the dorms. They became friends, but after their chemistry and commonalities mixed, they became more.
When they aren't involved in scientific studies, they’re busy finding other fish in the sea — in the literal sense.
She and John have logged about 60 scuba dives, and are certified PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) rescue divers. They’ve found themselves in the company of 14-foot manta rays, 13-foot bull sharks, schools of stingrays, and listening to dolphins underwater. They’ve been diving in Hawaii, and many places in the Caribbean and Central America.
About three miles offshore in Hawaii, tethered to a boat at night, they dove 40-feet deep into the black water to witness one of the largest migrations on Earth, a pelagic night dive. During this event, hundreds of thousands of jellyfish-like creatures swim to the surface from about 10,000 feet below.
"My favorite thing to see while diving are the very tiny creatures that you have to hunt for and almost re-focus your eyes from the macro picture to the micro in order to see," she says, "such as tiny 1.5 inch long peppermint shrimp patterned in red and white, and Christmas tree worms that look like colorful 2- to 3-inch tall Christmas trees, and will quickly recoil back into the coral reef if you get too close."
Her work at NASA Langley also involves taking a closer look beneath the surface. In her work she uses X-rays images of composites, materials made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties.
"Some damage can be completely interior to the sample," she said of an image of delamination damage that resembled flower petals. The 'petals' were cracks that could not be seen without nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques, such as X-ray.
"It's a lot like having an X-ray to determine if a bone is broken or not," she said.
Leckey investigates new NDE techniques to provide important data about damage that could affect the performance of an aircraft or spacecraft. Her co-workers handle the X-rays and she incorporates the images into NDE ultrasound simulations.
"It's a team effort," she said.
While earning her PhD in physics at William and Mary, Leckey had no plans to end up at NASA Langley. In fact, she didn’t even realize it was so close in proximity to her. But during her final year, she began working at the center while completing her doctoral dissertation, which had a focus in nondestructive evaluation.
Through various outreach efforts, she not only makes sure that others are aware NASA Langley is here in Hampton Roads, but also that it's a valuable asset.
Just this week, Leckey was a panel member at a Women in Sciences Workshop at Old Dominion University, which was held for undergraduate students who are interested in science fields.
"I usually encourage students to try different areas of science to see what they like best," she said. "I want them to do work that is meaningful to them."
For Leckey, it’s less about what the average eye can see, and more about what begs to be revealed and discovered through her own two eyes.
It's all a matter of personality, really.
By: Denise Lineberry
The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman