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LaToya Myles
Katie Valentine

LaToya Myles

Dr. LaToya Myles is the deputy director of NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She's also a lead research physical scientist who studies the exchange of atmospheric gases and particles between the air, plants, and soil in coastal or agricultural ecosystems.

What drew you to your current career or field?

My interest in science grew from a natural curiosity. I was an inquisitive kid who discovered that asking questions is an essential part of being a scientist. Through high school and college, I participated in summer internships and cooperative education positions in different STEM fields. As a graduate student, I received a fellowship from the NOAA Educational Partnership Program, which introduced me to the agency’s air quality research. These experiences helped me develop new skills and identify opportunities that aligned with my interests in chemistry, biology, and the environment.  Along the way, dedicated mentors showed me how to apply what I learned in the classroom to real-world environmental challenges.  

What projects or research are you working on now?

My research focuses on measuring atmospheric gases and particles and understanding the processes that control their movement between the air and Earth’s surface. There is a popular adage, the rule of threes, about a person being able to survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, and 3 minutes without air. Obviously, clean air is a vital natural resource, even though it’s easy to overlook.  Many of my projects focus on ammonia in the air; it’s an interesting compound because ammonium particles contribute to smog and when deposited from the air, ammonia can deteriorate water quality and soil health. Excess ammonia can have far-reaching environmental effects.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The aspect of my work that brings me the most enjoyment is the people. I enjoy working with teams of colleagues across different scientific disciplines that bring their own expertise and capabilities to the table. In my role as deputy director, I have opportunities to communicate with researchers in other agencies, at universities, and in industry to advance ATDD’s programs in air chemistry, climate, and boundary layer processes. I also enjoy outreach activities where I bring NOAA science into K-12 classrooms or host student groups for lab visits.

What was the best advice ever given to you that helped you become successful? 

I’ve collected helpful advice and interesting quotes from many people and places over the years. One leadership quote that resonates with me came courtesy of a character from a popular TV show (Grey’s Anatomy): “If you want someone to run a 4-minute mile, you don’t chase them. You don’t give them something to run from. You give them something to run to. That’s what leaders do.”  

What do you hope to accomplish in the future? What do you hope the future for women in science looks like?

There remain many unanswered questions about the processes that deposit compounds from the air to plants, water, and soil and the chemical changes that may occur as a result. I hope to be engaged in more interdisciplinary studies in complex areas like coastal ecosystems that leverage atmospheric, ecological, and water quality measurements. I am also motivated to continue developing my leadership skills and broadening my knowledge of the agency’s portfolio of research and development.

My hope for the future of women in science is that we have an abundance of the most important things. Early in my career, I quickly realized that I couldn’t have it all and that I would face tough decisions about my family and career commitments. However, when I clarified my priorities, I was able to make decisions that preserved and even elevated the important things.

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