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Women in Planetary Science: Meet Nadine Barlow

March 26, 2010

Dr. Nadine BarlowNadine Barlow researches Martian impact craters and has recently written the inaugural invited review article for GSA Bulletin, which is currently strongly encouraging submissions from the planetary community (hint, hint).

Barlow has also recently authored Mars: An Introduction to its Interior, Surface, and Atmosphere, an interdisciplinary textbook and reference containing data from missions as recent as the Mars Exploration Rovers.

A graduate of the University of Arizona, she is now an associate professor with tenure at Northern Arizona University.  She is the Director of the NAU Space Grant Program and, beginning this Fall, will become Assistant Chair of the NAU Department of Physics and Astronomy.  The abstract of her most recent review article appears below, followed by a little Q&A.

What we know about Mars from its impact craters
Nadine Barlow

Martian impact craters provide insights into formation ages of terrain units, near-surface properties, and the planet’s degradational history. Crater size-frequency distribution analyses allow determination of terrain unit relative ages, and extrapolation of lunar crater chronology can provide estimates of absolute ages for these units. Such analyses indicate that Mars has been geologically active throughout its history, but it also retains extensive regions dating back to ca. 4 Ga. Higher cratering rates during the late heavy bombardment (LHB) helped to create the Martian regolith, and formation of large impact basins helped to erode the initially denser Martian atmosphere and may have created the hemispheric dichotomy. Low global degradation rates since the end of LHB (ca. 3.8 Ga) resulted in well-preserved impact crater morphologies. The presence of layered ejecta blankets and central pits associated with fresh to moderately eroded craters suggests a volatile-rich crust. Impact crater depth-diameter relationships allow estimation of the vertical extent of crustal volatiles to depths greater than those probed by current spacecraft instrumentation. Temporal changes in subsurface ice reservoir depths are revealed by differences in layered ejecta onset diameter as a function of crater age. An understanding of the morphology and morphometry of pristine impact craters facilitates efforts to determine the amount and types of degradation and the periods over which they operated. Impact craters therefore play a major role in unraveling the climatic and geologic history of Mars.*

1. What first inspired you to study space science?

I became interested in astronomy during a 5th grade field trip to the Palomar College Planetarium in San Marcos, CA, and my Dad gave me my first telescope a year later. I also gained an appreciation for geology during our annual family vacations, when we would travel across the country by car and stop off at many of the national parks and monuments.  I majored in astronomy with a joint minor in geology and chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona. During my last semester I took a planetary geology class and knew that was what I wanted to study, since it combined my interests of astronomy and geology.

2. Where did you postdoc, and for how long?

After I received my PhD, I moved to Houston, TX, for a post-doctoral position at the Lunar and Planetary Institute followed by a National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Assistantship at NASA Johnson Space Center. I also taught astronomy and planetary geology courses part-time at the University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL). I realized that I enjoyed both teaching and research and decided to pursue an academic position at a University where I could combine the two pursuits.

3. Why did you choose Northern Arizona University?

I spent 9 years in Houston followed by 6.5 years in Orlando at the University of Central Florida.  After 15.5 years in the Southeast, I grew tired of the oppressive heat, humidity, and hurricanes.  I also grew homesick for the spectacular geology and dark night-time skies of the West, so I quickly accepted when the opportunity arose in 2002 to become an Assistant Professor at Northern Arizona University.  Northern Arizona is a great place for terrestrial analogs of geologic features seen on other planets, so the decision to move here was a very easy one for me.

4. Do you have any advice for students and postdocs just starting their career in space science?

Some of the things I’ve learned over the past 28 years that I’ve been a planetary scientist include:
1) Believe in yourself.  You will encounter teachers, colleagues, and even significant others who will try to convince you that you are not cut out to be a scientist. Develop a thick skin and a strong sense of self-esteem.
2) Develop and maintain a small network of female colleagues who can support and advise you. The guys have their “Old-Boy Networks”, so you need an “Old-Girl Network” to help you through the challenging times.
3) Treat others as you want to be treated–with RESPECT.  There are ways to make scientific arguments without resorting to personal attacks, and you will gain the respect of your colleagues if you keep things professional. Provide constructive criticism, particularly to your younger colleagues.
4) Have a plan and update it regularly. Where do you want to be in 5 years?  10 years? What steps can you take to help you achieve your goals? Who can advise and help you achieve your goals? Sometimes you have to take positions that are not the best fit just to gain the experience you need to get that perfect position.
5) Take advantage of available opportunities.  This is CRITICAL when you are starting out–you need to make a (good) name for yourself and distinguish yourself from everyone else. Apply for those summer internships–it will look good on your resume and grad school/job applications. Teach that night class at the community college even if the pay is abysmal–it counts much more when you apply for an academic position than the fact that you taught labs in grad school. Take on that service assignment that nobody else wants–it shows you are a team player and helps you develop leadership skills.
6) Be a good citizen of the planetary community. If you publish papers, be willing to review manuscripts. If you get research grants, agree to serve on review panels. Run for office in your professional society. EVERYONE is busy, but make time to help out the community of which you are a member.
7) Explain what you do and encourage the next generation. If your research is funded by federal grants, you are receiving taxpayer money and you owe it to the public to let them know why it is important to fund scientific research. Give public talks, participate in open houses, and agree to be interviewed by the local media. Participate in teacher workshops, passing on your knowledge and enthusiasm to those who teach the next generation. Judge science fairs and encourage those budding scientists and engineers. Communicate with your elected officials and let them know how funding research at NASA and NSF impacts their district.
8) You can’t do everything, but you can do a lot. The key is to be organized. Develop good time-management skills. Have a daily schedule and stick to it. Plan ahead for upcoming deadlines. But include some flexible time to attend to those things that just come up.
9) Love what you do. Life is too short to be stuck in a job that you hate. You may discover that what you thought you wanted to do isn’t really a good fit after all. That’s fine–adjust your plan. Your background and research skills make you very marketable in a number of fields, some not even related to space science. Research your options.

Wow — thank you, Nadine! If you’d like to be our next Woman in Planetary Science, email us and volunteer — this is quickly becoming our most popular feature!

*Geological Society of America Bulletin B30182.1, first published online on December 30, 2009, to appear in the May-June 2010 issue.

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