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Dr. Shannon Curry: If you like learning everyday, run a spacecraft Mission!

September 16, 2022

This interview was conducted by Kelsi Singer and Jamie O’Brien. Jamie is currently a graduate student in a joint Aerospace and Engineering Management at University of Colorado. 

Dr. Shannon Curry

Shannon Curry is a planetary physicist and Assistant Deputy Director at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.  She is involved in many spacecraft missions and concepts, and last year was named as the Principal Investigator of the NASA Mars Scout MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) mission.  Her research focus is on terrestrial planetary atmospheres, primarily in atmospheric escape and dynamics at weakly magnetized planets. She is also involved in instrument development and mission concept development for future flight exploration of the solar system. Other collaborations include serving as the Project Scientist on ESCAPADE (a Phase C NASA SIMPLEx-II mission) and as a science team member for Parker Solar Probe (PSP) missions, as well as a collaborator on NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) program.

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

I have always been one of those kids who found looking up at the stars fascinating.  I went to undergrad at Tufts University in Boston, and majored in astrophysics with an art history and studio art minor.  During that time, I did a semester “abroad” in Arizona, doing observing at the Columbia observatory at the biosphere and taking coursework.  After undergrad I wanted to take some time to figure out what do with my life, and I took six months off and did bartending.  Next, I started engineering work at Lockheed because I was looking for some more tangible projects.  The engineering component of being able to solve problems appealed to me and I thought it would be a great way to use math and physics in an applied problem.  And an opportunity to work there came along in the defense sector.  But eventually I decided that was not the best fit for me and I wanted to move back to science. 

A skill that is very handy from the engineering world is to have schedules and deliverables.  This gives you an idea of how to have a straightforward answer with a clear direction. 

Read more…

Dr. Ellen Stofan: In many cases careers are not linear!

September 13, 2022

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

Ellen R. Stofan, PhD

Dr. Ellen Stofan is the Under Secretary for Science and Research at the Smithsonian.  She oversees its science research centers as well as the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo. The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, Office of International Relations, Smithsonian Scholarly Press and Scientific Diving Program also report to Stofan. Her focus is the Smithsonian’s collective scientific initiatives and commitment to research across the Institution, especially addressing issues such as biodiversity, global health, climate change, species conservation, astrophysics and the search for life outside Earth’s solar system.

Previously, Stofan was the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (2018–2021) where she was the first woman to hold that position. Under her leadership, the museum began its seven-year renovation of its flagship building in Washington, D.C., in 2018. Stofan also oversaw the momentous celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in July 2019 at the museum and on the National Mall.  She joined the Museum in 2018 with more than 25 years of experience in space administration and planetary science. Dr. Stofan was previously Chief Scientist at NASA.

She also held senior scientist positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, including work on missions exploring Venus, Earth, Mars, and Saturn; as chief scientist – New Millennium Program; and principal investigator on the proposed Titan Mare Explorer. Dr. Stofan holds master’s and doctorate degrees in geological sciences from Brown University, and a bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary. She is an honorary professor at University College London, and was on the board of the College of William & Mary.

Ellen R. Stofan, PhD, stands in front of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 5B Vega at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, June 26, 2018. (NASM photo by Jim Preston) [NASM2018-01471]
  • Both Ellen and Mikayla attended William & Mary for their undergraduate work, so that was a fun connection for this interview! 😊

1. How did you first become interested in astronomy and planetary science in general?

My story is not at all a typical story. I always really liked science, but there were so few women role models to look toward that I didn’t really know what kind of scientist I wanted to be. My biggest heroine at that point was Mary Leakey, so I thought I wanted to be an archeologist.  This was the 1960s, and there were all these articles about the work she was doing on human origins.  My mother was an elementary school science teacher, and while she was getting her master’s degree in Ohio, she took a geology course.  I was probably ten or eleven, and she asked the professor if I could come because I was always picking up rocks.  I thought the idea that you could use rocks to read the past was just really cool!

Read more…

Corrected registration link! Announcing the 2022 DPS Women in Planetary Science Discussion Hour – Hybrid Event!

July 23, 2022

Join us for the annual Division for Planetary Sciences Women in Planetary Science event in a hybrid format on October 4, Noon-1 Eastern.  All are welcome!  We will have both online and in person event hosts to facilitate conversation for both types of attendees.  This year the format will be mostly small-group discussions on professional development topics. 

A huge thanks(!) to our generous sponsor AURA (https://www.aura-astronomy.org/) for supporting this event again this year. 

Please see more details and register for the event at http://bit.ly/DPS_WiPS_2022.   The event is free to attend.  We know plans change, but please register ASAP if there is a 50% chance you will attend either in person or virtual so we can start to plan.  For in person, please try to register by August 15 – that is when we need to get the initial food order in.  You do not need to be registered for the DPS meeting to attend virtually.

Hope to see you there!

Announcing the 2022 DPS Women in Planetary Science Discussion Hour – Hybrid Event!

July 22, 2022

Join us for the annual Division for Planetary Sciences Women in Planetary Science event in a hybrid format on October 4, Noon-1 Eastern.  All are welcome!  We will have both online and in person event hosts to facilitate conversation for both types of attendees.  This year the format will be mostly small-group discussions on professional development topics. 

A huge thanks(!) to our generous sponsor AURA (https://www.aura-astronomy.org/) for supporting this event again this year. 

Please see more details and register for the event at http://bit.ly/DPS_WiPS_2022.   The event is free to attend.  We know plans change, but please register ASAP if there is a 50% chance you will attend either in person or virtual so we can start to plan.  For in person, please try to register by August 15 – that is when we need to get the initial food order in.  You do not need to be registered for the DPS meeting to attend virtually.

Hope to see you there!

Student Award Now Given in Honor of Carolyn Shoemaker

July 21, 2022

From LPI, In the News (July 12, 2022)

The late Dr. Carolyn S. Shoemaker had a brief, but extraordinary scientific career. In a twelve-year window, she discovered a world record 32 comets, including Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that dramatically plunged into the atmosphere of Jupiter in 1994. She was preceded in death by her husband, Eugene Shoemaker, who led the Apollo 11 and 12 geology teams and helped craft the field of impact cratering science. When Gene died, Carolyn provided funds to the Geological Society of America (GSA) Foundation for an endowment to support student research, with an award named in honor of her husband. That award will now be known as the Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award.

Undergraduate and graduate students working in the disciplines of geology, geophysics, geochemistry, astronomy, or biology, can apply for research support here. The deadline to apply is August 26, 2022.

Read more about the award here and here. Read more about Carolyn’s life and legacy here.

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…