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Dr. Keiko Nakamura-Messenger: Exploring the Cosmos at Atomic Scales

May 13, 2016

Photo by Bill Stafford

Dr. Keiko Nakamura-Messenger is a cosmochemist and materials scientist in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  She has a Ph. D. in Material Science from Kobe University in Japan.  Keiko is currently the lead of sample site science and the deputy curation lead of the OSIRIS-REx mission, as well as a science team member of the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission.  She is an expert in the analysis of extraterrestrial materials, especially in analysis of samples at the nano-scale, e.g. Stardust samples and interplanetary dust particles.  Her research led to the discovery of two new minerals, Brownleeite and Wassonite. Asteroid 7862 Keikonakamura is named in her honor for her pioneering work on microscopic organic globules in meteorites, furthering understanding of organic material in the solar system.

Kat Gardner-Vandy, an Earth and space science consultant and research associate at the University of Tulsa, interviewed Keiko for the 51+ Women in Planetary Science series over email.

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Summary from 2016 LPSC WiPS Event

April 15, 2016

The topic for this year’s event was implicit or unconscious bias.  We had two great presentations and a discussion, summarized below.

1. Dr. Gale Allen (Deputy Chief Scientist) on NASA’s Demographic Data Initiative

Gale opened with statistics on the percentage of women at various career levels in STEM fields (decreasing with increasing career level).  She reiterated the NASA position of not funding universities that do not comply with Title 9 policies.

About the Demographic Data Initiative: NSF and other agencies already collect demographic data – and this is an initiative to have NASA do the same.  These studies can reveal potential unconscious bias in grant awards.  Gale outlined more of the history of these studies in her slides.

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Super Quick Survey on LPSC Childcare Needs – please participate and distribute

March 8, 2016

We have put together a short (should take less than 1 min. to complete) survey on the needs of the community for childcare at LPSC.  This information will help inform possible solutions/suggestions to help those with children attend the conference.  You can fill it out even if you don’t anticipate needing childcare:), and of course if you anticipate needing childcare now or in the future we would love to get your input.

This is a homegrown effort – so we would greatly appreciate if you could help us circulate the survey far and wide (share on their facebook page, twitter, share it on department mail, whatever is appropriate).  Thanks!

Contact for questions about the survey is Deepak Dhingra (deepdpes at

Announcing the 2016 LPSC Susan Niebur WiPS Networking Event!

March 8, 2016

Eighth Annual Susan Niebur Women in Planetary Science Event at LPSC

Wednesday, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., Waterway 5, Woodlands Waterway Marroitt (LPSC Conference Venue, Houston, TX)

Everyone has implicit or unconscious biases shaped by societal expectations and past experiences. These biases can influence evaluation and judgement, in either a positive or negative way. Studies have shown that unconscious bias can negatively affect the careers of women and other minorities in STEM fields. In addition to raising awareness about best practices, this event is meant as a springboard for implementing positive change in our community. We welcome everyone’s input on this important topic. RSVP (not required, but requested so we will have an idea about attendance numbers), and updated information:

Light refreshments will be provided thanks to generous support from the Division for Planetary Sciences (thank you!!!).

Approximate Schedule:

– 6:00 – Snacks and networking
– 6:10 – Opening Remarks
– 6:15 – Presentation by Gale Allen (Deputy Chief Scientist) on NASA’s demographic data initiative
– 6:30 – Implicit bias training by Implicit bias training by Meagan Thompson (NASA Senior Scientist and Program Officer)
– 7:00 to 7:30 – Group announcements and discussion

Formal event goes from 6:00-7:30.  We have the room until 8 for those who wish to continue small group discussions.

The Status of Mental Health in Planetary Science

January 29, 2016

By Angela Zalucha

I meant to write this article yesterday. That’s not a statement of procrastination. I suffer from depression, which was triggered a few years ago by events directly related to my career. The symptoms of depression are different from person to person. For me, I have to go lay in bed, in silence. Tasks like getting up to heat leftover pizza up in the microwave are insurmountable. So I wasn’t exactly up to the task of writing a blog article, even if it was about the condition I suffer from.

But I’ve already talked too much about mental health for our society’s comfort. It’s strange, really. Physicians recommend yearly check-ups for they physical aspects of the body. Yet we don’t go for yearly mental health check-ups. If you break your arm, you’ll see a triage nurse, a radiologist, a clinician, and maybe a surgeon and physical therapist. Nobody tells you you shouldn’t seek treatment, and you probably aren’t going to have second thoughts about going to urgent care or the emergency room (unless you have an emotional reaction to hospitals). So why when your brain gets “injured” in a psychological way is there a stigma about seeing a medical professional? Why do I feel like I have to lie about going to therapy appointments? Why can I tell only my most trusted family and friends about my condition?

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Dr. Athena Coustenis: just follow your dreams

January 27, 2016


Athena Coustenis is Director of Research 1st class with the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the Observatory of Paris-Meudon, in France. Her research is devoted to the investigation of planetary atmospheres and surfaces, with emphasis on icy moons like Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus, and Jupiter’s Ganymede and Europa, objects with high astrobiological potential. She has led many observational campaigns from the ground and space using large observatories (CFHT, UKIRT, VLT, etc), and the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) to conduct planetary investigations. Athena is a Co-Investigator of three of the instruments (CIRS, HASI, DISR) aboard the Cassini/Huygens space mission to Saturn and Titan. She also works on the characterization of exoplanetary atmospheres.

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A Step In Stepping Up – DPS 2015 Men’s Auxiliary

December 13, 2015

Andy Rivkin, David Grinspoon, and Bob Pappalardo organized an informal Men’s Auxilliary discussion at DPS this year around the topic of harassment and steps to changing the culture in the planetary science community.  They were kind enough to share the below summary and thoughts from the event.  Thanks to Andy, Dave, Bob, and all of the participants for taking the time to discuss this topic and contribute important perspectives and reflection.

Event Report

Many of us who were graduate students in the 1980s and 1990s were under the impression that issues of gender equality and sexual harassment were matters of demographics, and that time was on the side of justice, and by the time we were mid-career scientists these issues might solve themselves. Needless to say, this hasn’t occurred.  With an eye toward taking an active rather than passive role, we began engaging the male members of the Division of Planetary Sciences at the annual meeting in National Harbor, Maryland in a discussion of where we are and where we want to be in the near future. Specifically, how can the men of our community be more proactive and help change the culture?

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