Rhiannon Mayne: Choose the right person to work with
I am just about to start my second year as a tenure-track faculty member at Texas Christian University. I am the curator of the Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Collection and an Assistant Professor of Meteoritics and Planetary Science. It’s my dream job – a mixture of museum and academic work.
Thank you, Rhiannon, for joining us today!
Rhiannon’s latest paper is in press in Meteoritics and Planetary Science:
Mayne, R. G., J. M. Sunshine, H. Y. McSween, T. J. McCoy, C. M. Corrigan, and A. Gale. “Petrologic Insights from the Spectra of the Unbrecciated Eucrites: Implications for Vesta and Basaltic Asteroids,” MAPS 2010.
We investigate the relationship between the petrology and visible-near infrared (VNIR) spectra of the unbrecciated eucrites and synthetic pyroxene-plagioclase mixtures to determine how spectra obtained by the Dawn mission could distinguish between several models that have been suggested for the petrogenesis of Vesta’s crust (e.g. partial melting and magma ocean). Here we study the spectra of petrologically characterized unbrecciated eucrites to establish spectral observables, which can be used to yield mineral abundances and compositions consistent with petrologic observations. No information about plagioclase could be extracted from the eucrite spectra. In contrast, pyroxene dominates the spectra of the eucrites and absorption band modeling provides a good estimate of the relative proportions of low- and high-Ca pyroxene present. Cr is a compatible element in eucrite pyroxene and is enriched in samples from primitive melts. An absorption at 0.6-µm resulting from Cr3+ in the pyroxene structure can be used to distinguish these primitive eucrites. The spectral differences present amongst the eucrites may allow Dawn to distinguish between the two main competing models proposed for the petrogenesis of Vesta (magma ocean and partial melting). These models predict different crustal structures and scales of heterogeneity, which can be observed spectrally. The formation of eucrite ALH A81001, which is primitive (Cr-rich) and relatively unmetamorphosed, is hard to explain in the magma ocean model. It could only have been formed as a quench crust. If the magma ocean model is correct then ALH A81001-like material should be abundant on the surface of Vesta and the Vestoids.
1. How did you first become interested in space science?
I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t. I was one of those kids who wanted to be an astronaut when they grew up and that dream just evolved into what I do today. I went to the UK version of Space Camp when I was 16 and loved every nerd-filled minute of it. I even planned to apply to do an astrophysics degree as an undergraduate but the careers advisor at my high school told me I would never get a job in planetary science and encouraged me to just do physics.
Long story short (and skipping over a few details), I ended up studying Geology at Edinburgh University and in my third year there Dr. Rhian Jones, who was a MSA Distinguished Lecturer that year, came to give a talk on meteorites. I decided to apply for a Ph.D. in meteoritics that day.
2. Did you do research as an undergrad?
Everyone was required to do a research project at Edinburgh and for most people this involved a detailed geologic mapping project at a place of their choosing. I was the accident prone one in my year and I was recovering from an incident where I ran over my own foot with an airport trolley (I could not replicate that one if I tried and several of my friends have tried), which resulted in some time on crutches and a no-no on the mapping project. I was given some 3D seismic data to interpret from the Wytch Farm Oil field in Dorset. I saw seismic lines in my sleep.
3. You’ve got some wonderful Co-Is on your upcoming MAPS paper — how did you meet?
Hap McSween was my Ph.D. advisor at the University of Tennessee. This paper is a result of some of my Ph.D. work. While I was at Tennessee, Tim McCoy came to give a seminar and he showed an interest in my Ph.D. project. My research involved examining a lot of thin sections and meteorite hand samples to select the samples I needed and for that I traveled to the Smithsonian where I encountered Tim again (for those who do not know Tim is the curator-in-charge of the National Meteorite Collection). I then applied for a 10-week graduate fellowship at the Smithsonian and during that fellowship Tim offered me a postdoc when I graduated. The offer came 4 years before my graduation but he stayed true to his word and I was his postdoc for a year before taking my current job. All the other co-authors I met as a result of my work with Tim. He ended up playing an instrumental role in my dissertation research; he was, and still is, a wonderful mentor, and a great friend.
So that the others get their due I should mention them as well. Jessica Sunshine (Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland) helped me learn to swim in the sea of spectroscopy without falling in and drowning. Cari Corrigan (Smithsonian) and I are currently collaborating on new projects and she and her family traveled over the pond to my wedding this Summer. Allie was an undergraduate working at the Smithsonian when I met her and she collected some vital data for me. I still wish I had her efficiency and drive, she set the bar high for me when it comes to working with undergraduates. Allie is currently a graduate student at Harvard.
4. What advice would you offer to undergrads looking to go further in planetary science?
If you want to go further then graduate school is in your future and I think the best piece of advice I can give is to do your research before applying. Planetary science is a very diverse field and it really helps to know what aspect of it you are interested in so that you choose the right person to work with. Once you have narrowed your options down then you should contact the person (or more likely people) that you think could be a possible advisor: ask them questions, tell them something about you and what you are interested in. This will help you in several ways. 1) You can assess where to apply and who has projects you might be interested in. 2) When the faculty members look at graduate school applications it really helps if that is not the first time we see your name.
Thank you, Rhiannon!
If you’d like to be featured as one of our 51 Women in Planetary Science, send in an abstract of a recently published paper and we’ll send you some questions. If you’re a student, send in a question and we’ll forward it to successful women scientists who can answer your questions about career choices, sequencing, publishing, review panels, and other tips for success. This feature will run every Tuesday and Friday, as often as we have submissions.