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Delia Santiago-Materese: Never underestimate how much you are a role model

April 6, 2022

Dr. Delia Santiago-Materese is the lead Program Officer for NASA’s Solar System Workings research and analysis funding program in the Planetary Science Division (PSD). She also initiated and implemented Dual-Anonymous Peer Review among several funding programs in PSD. Dr. Santiago-Materese has a background in biological sciences and earned her Ph.D., in Earth Sciences at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She focused her doctoral studies on understanding the atmosphere of Mars using models and experiments. She spent several years in the Planetary Systems Branch at NASA Ames Research Center before moving to NASA Headquarters. NASA recently honored Dr. Santiago-Materese with the 2022 NASA Excellence in Innovation Award, in part for her contributions to improving the proposal review process. Congratulations! Below is our interview with her.

How did you first become interested in planetary science? What’s your specific research area?

When I was younger, I was always drawn to Biology, and was interested largely in being a veterinarian. I studied Biological Science in undergrad at Stanford University, and in my junior year I happened upon an elective called “Astrobiology and Space Exploration”. Little did I know that the lectures would be from legends in the space sciences from NASA Ames Research Center, which was just down the road. I had always loved space, but never saw it as a realistic future possibility. Until I took this course, I thought space was mainly for engineers or astronomers.

After college, and after a short time working at the San Francisco Zoo (great life experience), I reconnected to the lead for that class and got a job at NASA Ames supporting life science experiments, in relation to gravitational space biology (what happens to life in a microgravity environment). It was all very interesting, but I found myself drawn to the destinations NASA was exploring, more than the area I was working in. I then entered graduate school at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the Earth Sciences department (which later became the Earth & Planetary Sciences department—most of “Planetary” science is rooted in the sciences developed to study our Earth!). I joined a climate model group and became acquainted with both Earth and Mars climate models. I left with my M.S. degree and returned to NASA Ames and worked on some amazing innovative projects, but I decided to return to science and complete my degree. For my Ph.D., I studied Mars water-ice cloud formation processes, doing both experimental and modeling work. So I consider myself a planetary atmospheric scientist, but I have a diverse scientific background. After my Ph.D. I supported a few analog and life detection projects, but I consider planetary atmospheres my main area of expertise.

Who inspired you?

So many! I’ve been so lucky to have many wonderful mentors. I tend to be most inspired by folks I have met in real life. I was amazed to work with Nobel Laureate, Baruch Blumberg, while I was at the NASA Lunar Science Institute. It was inspiring to see that someone so smart, who touched so many lives, was a real and kind human who was so humble. My late Aunt Janet was a also huge inspiration. She worked in the fashion industry, was always her own person, and refused to just do what was expected of her. She also just lived life to the fullest and savored every moment. Life should be rich and enjoyable, and those who have inspired me really lived that.

How did you choose your current institution?

I am at NASA Headquarters in the Planetary Science Division (PSD). I was hired here formally in September of 2021, and before that I detailed here for about three years, as a NASA Ames employee. I was fortunate to be hired at NASA Ames as a Pathways student. Pathways is a work-study program, and it was wonderful to be able to work on my doctorate as an employee of NASA; I feel so fortunate for that opportunity.

How did I pick NASA Ames? I’ve been a Bay Area gal most of my life, and what can beat NASA in the Silicon Valley? (except NASA Headquarters, of course!)

What have you negotiated when considering accepting a position?

Knowing your worth is so important, and pursuing what you are capable of is such an important thing in one’s career.

There was one time that I put my foot down in the salary negotiation, and I actually had the offer rescinded. While this might sound bad, it wasn’t. First, the potential organization truly was undervaluing me (the total benefits package was less than the position I was currently in). Second, the organization with the right position, which I was slowly pursuing in the background, came to me with an offer 30% higher, with no negotiating, and it was a much better fit career-wise. I obviously had a lot of privilege in this situation, for which I’m grateful, but it led me to a better outcome overall.

I have also negotiated, or perhaps persuasively pursued, more responsibilities in several positions. This led to me supporting international partnerships while at the NASA Lunar Science Institute (now the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute) and leading efforts for Dual-Anonymous Peer Review (DAPR) in PSD in the Science Mission Directorate here at NASA Headquarters.

What do you do for fun?

I love being outside for walks and hikes, or a trip to the zoo. I have little ones, so enjoy things we can all do together to experience the wide world. I love cooking when I can afford the time to make something a little special! Pre-kids (and pre-pandemic), I did martial arts and loved exploring cultural spots. I do enjoy watching my science fiction as well—it’s such a treat!

What else should we know?

I have children, and of course it’s challenging to have this stage of life coincide with a demanding career (during the pandemic no less), so I have to be very intentional with all of my time. Drawing boundaries with work is how I make sure to make the most of family time, and it helps me prioritize at work as well. Sometimes being busy gives you the clarity you need in how to use your time.

During the pandemic, I’ve had the kids at home while doing work, so I’ve also learned to never ever underestimate how much you are a role model even when you don’t think you are. My oldest has an artistic flare, and many interests, but I did not have a sense that she wanted to be a scientist. When she graduated pre-K, her class slideshow showed that… she wanted to be a scientist! Just like her parents. Even though she never verbalized it, she observed her parents working and wants to be like us. Realizing that I’m my little girls’ role model makes me want to do everything better.

Please share any advice you have for students and post-docs just starting their career in space science.

It’s okay to not know exactly where you want to end up! Some of my most exciting positions have been ones I didn’t even know existed when I was younger. Keep your mind open to new opportunities, and always strive to learn more skills and try new things. Also think about the type of work you like: do you enjoy lab work? Coding? Working with others? or just being by yourself a lot? There’s something for everyone, but think about what you enjoy and what you feel a sense of accomplishment about. My path has been very winding, but I’ve had many incredible life experiences in the work place. There is always more to learn and more to do!

Also, remember that being smart and working hard is important, but you are never too smart to be kind to people. Work can be a point of many joyous returns, but there is more to life, and to who you are, than succeeding at work.

Learn more about Delia!

Job Opening: Director of the Florida Space Institute

March 17, 2022

Hello all! I normally don’t send out job openings as blog posts but there was a special request on this one to try to reach a wide (and hopefully more diverse) audience :). So here is some info, consider applying and forwarding to anyone you think might be a good fit!

Faculty Administrator and Director, Florida Space Institute

The Florida Space Institute (FSI), a multidisciplinary center devoted to facilitating and conducting
leading-edge applied and basic research and education programs in space-related fields, seeks
applications and nominations for a 12-month, non-tenure earning faculty administrator and director of the
FSI. Located in the Research Park of the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, FSI’s charter is
to support space research, development, and education activities within UCF and in the state of Florida,
and secondarily to support the development of Florida’s space economy, including civil, defense, and
commercial.
The director also oversees the Arecibo Observatory located in Puerto Rico. The Arecibo Observatory is
recognized for its world-class radio astronomy, solar system radar, atmospheric physics facility, onsite
and virtual education programs for K-16, and supporting the economic and social development of Puerto
Rico.

UCF is committed to becoming a premier institution in space science, engineering, and education and is
seeking a dynamic individual to implement that vision by growing FSI into a nationally recognized space
research powerhouse. The director will work with faculty from the College of Sciences, the College of
Engineering and Computer Science, the College of Optics and Photonics, the Arecibo Observatory, and
others interested in space-related research at UCF to achieve these goals. The FSI director reports
directly to UCF’s vice president for Research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies, and will
strategize, coordinate, and lead UCF’s governmental, industry, research, commercialization, and
administrative efforts in space science engineering and education.

More details at : https://jobs.ucf.edu/en-us/job/501671/faculty-administrator-and-director-florida-space-institute

2022 NASA Planetary Science Summer School

February 10, 2022

Applications are due on March 30, 2022

Offered by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, PSSS is a 3-month long career development experience to learn the development of a hypothesis-driven robotic space mission in a concurrent engineering environment while getting an in-depth, first-hand look at mission design, life cycle, costs, schedule & the inherent trade-offs.

Engineering students close to completion of their MS degree, science & engineering doctoral candidates, recent PhDs, postdocs, & junior faculty who are U.S. Citizens or legal permanent residents (and a very limited number of Foreign Nationals from non-designated counties) are eligible. Applicants from diverse backgrounds are particularly encouraged to apply- we highly value diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Session 1: May 9-Aug 5

Session 2: May 23-Aug 19

With workload of a rigorous 3-hour graduate-level course, participants act as a planetary science mission team during the first 12 weeks of preparatory webinars, with the final culminating week mentored by JPL’s Advance Project Design Team for refining the mission concept design & presenting it to a mock expert review board.  The culminating week is typically at JPL, but in 2022 it is likely virtual due to Covid-19 pandemic concerns.

Register here for a PSSS Application Q&A Webinar on March 1, 2022 from 3-4 pm Pacific Time.

For more information and to apply, visit go.nasa.gov/missiondesignschools

LPI seeking committee members for new IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) Independent Advisory Committee – Applications due Oct 8

September 26, 2021

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) is seeking committee members for its newly established IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) Independent Advisory Committee. 

Service is at the heart of the LPI’s mission. As we support and serve members of our diverse planetary science community, we want to take actions to ensure we facilitate a culture and a profession that is inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible. As a mechanism for direct community feedback and accountability, we are announcing the creation of an independent advisory committee. The goal of the advisory committee is to provide guidance on the LPI’s practices, in particular for meetings, conferences, and public and planetary community engagement activities. 

Read more…

Remembering Carolyn Shoemaker

September 15, 2021

I met Carolyn Shoemaker in 1999, right in the middle of my graduate school career, when Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) hosted Space Week, to honor George Low (Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office and 14th president of RPI) and other explorers of space. Our list of speakers and attendees included John Young (Apollo 16 astronaut and commander of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission); Harrison “Jack” Schmitt (Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist); Grace Mary Corrigan (mother of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe); Stephanie Wilson (at the time an astronaut candidate but now a veteran of three shuttle flights); and Carolyn Shoemaker, among others.

Carolyn immediately accepted our invitation to speak and we excitedly planned her itinerary to include a student meet-and-greet, a visit to our campus observatory, and the public talk. She spoke passionately about her life exploring the skies, discovering and documenting the locations of hundreds of asteroids and numerous comets. She spoke lovingly of her children and her deceased husband, Gene Shoemaker, who helped train the Apollo astronauts prior to their Moon landings. Both Shoemakers, along with David Levy, identified the “string of pearls”, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, that crashed into Jupiter in 1994, focusing the attention of most Earth- and space-based telescopes on this never-before-seen phenomenon. We have now witnessed several comet-planet collisions. Carolyn’s enthusiasm for space exploration was apparent and it’s stuck with me all these years.

Carolyn Shoemaker passed away on August 13, 2021, at the age of 92. Though she never really considered herself a scientist, we honor her contributions to advancing our field. Share your memories below and read more about her life and legacy at the following sites:

Planetary News, by Lisa Gaddis (Lunar and Planetary Institute) and Mary Chapman (US Geological Survey)

Nature, by David Levy (Jarnac Observatory)

Astronomy, by Caitlyn Buongiorno

Announcing the 2021 DPS Women in Planetary Science Discussion Hour – Virtual Event – registration link enclosed

September 7, 2021

Hello all! I am excited to announce our 2021 Virtual Women in Planetary Science Event at DPS. Maggie McAdam and Audrey Martin have worked to put together an excellent program, and many thanks to AURA for sponsoring our event for many years, including this year :).

This year’s discussion topic is: Lean in…into discomfort: the continual work of equity and justice. We will discuss our continued commitment to equity and justice in STEM. More details about the schedule and topics will be posted soon.

Date: Monday, Oct. 4, 2021
Time: 5 pm Eastern, 4 pm Central, 3 pm Mountain, 2 am Pacific, 11 am Hawaii standard time, 11 pm CET
Duration: ~1.5 hr (one hour event, ½ hour open networking time)
Place: Virtual link to be sent to those who register at the link below, and also available for DPS meeting registrants on the detailed schedule page (not the block schedule). Please don’t post the link in a public place to avoid zoom-bombing.

Registration and more details at: http://bit.ly/DPS_WiPS_2021

Note: You do not need to be registered for DPS to attend this Women in Planetary Science event, but we hope you will also join us for the fantastic science portions of the meeting :).

Myriam Telus: Find mentors everywhere you go

August 16, 2021

Myriam Telus is an Assistant Professor in the Earth & Planetary Sciences Department at UC-Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on understanding the timing and conditions of solar system formation and early evolution through chemical and isotope analyses of meteorites. In 2020, Dr. Telus received a NASA Planetary Science Early Career Award to continue her meteorite studies and to also develop cosmochemistry and scanning electron microscope facilities at UC-Santa Cruz that will be suitable for storing and analyzing samples returned from the ongoing NASA OSIRIS-REx and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Hayabusa-2 missions.

Her most recent publications include

Thompson M.A. et al. (2021) Composition of terrestrial exoplanet atmospheres from meteorite outgassing experiments, Nature Astronomy.

Telus M. et al. (2019) Calcite and dolomite formation in the CM parent body: Insight from in situ C and O analyses, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.


How did you first become interested in planetary science? What’s your specific research area?

I’m a cosmochemist. I study the chemical and isotopic signatures of meteorites and other extraterrestrial material to understand the chemical and physical evolution of the protoplanetary disk. I learned about cosmochemistry while I was an undergrad in geology at the University of Chicago. I was fascinated by meteorites, ancient rocks from space. Meteorites are all so different in texture and chemistry. I use various geochemical techniques to piece together the story they record of the earliest stages of solar system formation and planet formation.    

Read more…

Dr. Jennifer Whitten – Be open to varied training methods, you never know where they might lead!

August 3, 2021

This interview was conducted by Mikayla Huffman (see more information at the end of this interview) and Kelsi Singer. 

Dr. Jennifer Whitten is an Assistant Professor at Tulane University.  She has worked on many missions, including VERITAS, Moon Diver Mission, SHARAD, and MESSENGER.  Her Postdoc was at the Smithsonian Institution, where she analyzed the radar properties of rocky bodies.  Dr. Whitten has also done field research in both Iceland and the Antarctic.  Her primary research interests include volcanism, impact processes, geomorphology, and radar science. 

Jennifer attended William and Mary for her undergraduate work, and Mikayla is currently studying there, so that was a fun connection for this interview! 😊

  • How did you first become interested in astronomy or planetary science?

I had a very enthusiastic high school Earth Science teacher who was also really liked astronomy.  He developed a few labs using a pre-cursor to the Eyes on the Solar System software, and you could fly around the solar system putting in people or other objects for scale.  I thought that was engaging but didn’t pursue the subject afterwards.  I was in a science magnet high school and so I took a lot of science in high school. In college, I wanted to go a different direction and so I majored in both Art History and Geology in undergrad at William and Mary.  I really liked the puzzle of putting together the natural observations.  In my surface processes class the professor put up a picture of landslide and asked us to describe it.  At the end of class he asked us what planet it was on, and we all guessed Earth, but actually it was a very high-resolution picture of Mars.  And that was my aha moment – I could study geology on other planets! I decided to go to grad school in planetary science.  I felt that there was a combination of image analysis from my art history side and the science side.

Read more…

Dr. Joceyln Bell Burnell – Short Documentary

July 29, 2021

Hey all! For those who haven’t seen it yet, there is a moving, 15-minute documentary about Dr. Bell Burnell on the NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/27/opinion/pulsars-jocelyn-bell-burnell-astronomy.html?referringSource=articleShare

This documentary is in line with our career trajectory interviews and so I wanted to share it here. Dr. Bell Burnell shared the aspects she appreciated about her career and what she has accomplished, both in science and as a role model and supporter of minority students and scientists, despite the very public setback during her grad years. I was lucky to meet Dr. Bell Burnell as a grad student at one of those very events supporting students!

Carlè McGetchin Pieters: The Journey of a Math Teacher to the Moon and Beyond…

July 13, 2021

This interview was conducted by Dr. Deepak Dhingra. Thanks to Dr. Carle Pieters for sharing her wisdom and Deepak for making this wonderful interview possible :).

About the interviewer: Deepak Dhingra is planetary geologist with expertise in near infrared spectroscopy and remote sensing geology. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. In the past, he worked on Chandrayaan-1 mission at the Indian Space Agency, ISRO and later was a member of the M3 team at Brown University, USA.

The Journey of a Math Teacher to the Moon and Beyond…

“Be Glad, Be Generous, Be Not Afraid.” These three tenets summarize the journey of a former high school math teacher who went on to become a world acclaimed planetary scientist, a spectroscopist and a champion of lunar science. Meet Carlè McGetchin Pieters, Professor (emeritus) in the department of Earth, Environment and Planetary Science (DEEPS) at Brown University, USA, and Distinguished Scientist at SSERVI (Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute). A well-respected figure in the science of squiggly lines, as Carlè would say, she is best known for her discovery of olivine-bearing central peaks at lunar crater Copernicus, spectral characterization of lunar nearside basalts and her reflectance measurement facility, RELAB. Most recently, Carlè and her team got accolades for discovering global lunar hydration signatures (OH/H2O) and a new lunar rock type (Pink Spinel Anorthosite – PSA). These discoveries were made by Carlè’s dream instrument, Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) that orbited the Moon for which she was the principal investigator.

Carlè in her office at Brown University in the 1980s.
Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) changed our views of the Moon forever. Team member, Rachel Klima (who is an active planetary scientist @ JHU-APL) weaved one of M3 views of the Moon into a pillow along with signatures of all the team members as a memento for the PI, Carlè Pieters.
Read more…

Martha Gilmore: Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong in this field

June 16, 2021


Martha Gilmore is the Seney Professor of Geology in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Wesleyan University, Middletown CT. A geologist who specializes in the study of planetary surfaces using geomorphic mapping and VNIR spectroscopy on Venus, Mars and Earth, Dr. Gilmore compares spectral signatures from field and laboratory work to orbital images to better interpret the signals received from remote sensing platforms. Dr. Gilmore received the Geological Society of America’s 2020 Randolph W. “Bill” and Cecile T. Bromery Award for, in part, her significant contributions to expanding diversity in the geosciences. She is a science team member of both NASA Discovery mission teams that will explore Venus and will use her expertise in morphology and spectroscopy to help us better understand the environment of Venus.

Her most-recent publications (w/ undergrad students denoted by ^) include:

How did you first become interested in astronomy or planetary science?

I grew up in Harrisburg, PA and would visit the PA State Museum. Throughout my childhood I loved the planetarium there and the natural history exhibits – I was in awe and so interested in what I was seeing. I was also enthralled by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos show which reported on the discoveries of the Voyager spacecraft. I still remember the episode that uses a piece of paper covered with zeros draped throughout the streets of a city to explain how large a googolplex is!

Read more…

DPS Professional Development June Virtual Workshop – Postdoc Opportunities

June 1, 2021

Hi All!

We recognize that networking has been difficult for many during these crazy times, especially for early career scientists – so the DPS is putting on a couple of 1-hr workshops this summer – the first one is all about postdocs :).

Come with questions, come with advice/answer, we would love to see you there!


Postdoctoral Opportunities in National Labs, Research Institutes & Universities: A Community Conversation


Date: Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Time: 2 pm Eastern, 1 pm Central, 12 pm Mountain, 11 am Pacific, 8 am Hawaii, 8 pm CEST (Central European)

Duration: ~1 hr

Place: Virtual

Join us for an interactive question and answer session all about postdoc positions. All are welcome! The professional development subcommittee of the DPS has assembled a panel of experts from various institutions and fields and also student moderators for the event. We will cover as many topics as are of interest to the audience, and plan to have a slack channel for asynchronous questions and answers as well. Please note this event is, free, open to all, and you do not need to be a DPS member or registered for the fall DPS meeting to attend. More information and the signup page can be found here: http://bit.ly/DPS_Postdocs. We hope to see you there!