In November, First Mode named its first ever Chief Scientist, promoting Elizabeth Frank, PhD from her previous position as First Mode’s Senior Applied Planetary Scientist to fill the newly created role. The new position, while less common than other C-suite titles like CEO and CTO, is integral to the success of an engineering firm working to apply the rigor of space-derived systems engineering practices to the most complex problems on the planet.
In an in-depth conversation with contributing editor Alan Boyle of GeekWire, Frank discussed what her role entails, the importance of bridging the gap between pure science and pure engineering, and her career advice for her colleagues.
We started with this hypothesis of trying to figure out if we could take the principles and practices of space systems engineering that we use to deliver spacecraft and launch them, and apply those principles to solve complex problems here on Earth. We’ve been testing that hypothesis over the past three years or so with projects like the haul truck power plant that we’ve been developing with Anglo American, as well as work in space, such as our work supporting the Psyche mission.
So, we’ve had this sustainability angle and this space angle that have been working in parallel. Across those examples of work, as well as other projects, we’ve been converging on several core capabilities for the company — and those are mobility, power systems, designing for extreme environments, and systems integration.
Now we’re at the point where we’re growing rapidly, and we want to be really strategic about where we’re directing resources. We started by taking principles from space engineering and applying them to terrestrial work. Now we want to learn from Earth-based problems and apply those lessons back in space — and at the same time, figure out how those things intersect. How do projects relating to space and exploration intersect with sustainability solutions?
As a scientist, I’m very intrigued by the opportunities. I’m interested in finding out how First Mode can take its core capabilities and apply them to problems across Earth science, climate science, oceanography — areas that require a deeper understanding to provide actionable solutions, but really require a scientist to define the problem. And so that’s where I’m coming in as chief scientist to create a roadmap of what those opportunities are, and where unique problems exist that First Mode can address.
Want to work with us? We’re hiring! First Mode draws on the exceptional talent and creativity of its multidisciplinary team to solve the toughest problems on and off the planet. Check out our open positions in Seattle and Perth.