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Kathleen Mandt: A nontraditional start

September 7, 2010

Kathleen Mandt published a paper on Titan recently as part of her Cassini work. Check out the paper, and her answers to our questions, below.

Mandt, K. E., J. H. Waite, Jr., B. A. Magee, J. Bell, J. Lunine, O. Mousis, D. Cordier, 2009, Isotopic evolution of Titan’s main atmospheric constituents, Planetary and Space Science, 57, 1917-1930.Kathy Mandt

Using Cassini ion neutral mass spectrometer stable isotope observations, we have developed a comprehensive method for modeling the time-evolution of the stable isotopic ratios in Titan’s major constituents, N2, CH4 and H2. Our model provides constraints on the initial 14N/15N ratio in N2, the time scale for the outgassing of methane from the interior, and the initial D/H ratio in methane. Over geologic time scales, the isotopes are fractionated by diffusion, atmospheric escape and photochemistry. Diffusion and escape preferentially remove the lighter isotopes for all constituents. Photolysis of methane also removes the lighter isotopes, while photolysis of nitrogen preferentially removes the heavier isotopes. We have found the following: (1) even taking past hydrodynamic escape into consideration, the initial 14N/15N ratio in N2 cannot have changed much from its current value as the result of atmospheric processes. This is due to the large amount of N2 that must be fractionated. High-rate loss processes, such as hydrodynamic escape, are inefficient fractionators and take a very long time to change the isotopic ratio. On the other hand, low-rate loss processes are efficient fractionators, but also take a very long time to influence a large inventory. (2) The current inventory of methane represents the remnant of methane that, constrained by the 12C/13C ratio, began outgassing from the interior more than 60 million years ago, resulting in a total inventory of 3-4 times the current inventory cycling through the system during this time period. Methane production is likely to be ongoing. (3) The initial D/H in methane was found to be 6.96-11.3×10‑5.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m essentially the poster child for non-traditional education.  I joined the Navy right after graduation from high school and spent seven years on active duty.  After having children, I stayed home to raise them while living the life of a Navy wife.  During that time we relocated every 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years.  I managed to piece together a Bachelor’s degree and then completed an MS program with the University of North Dakota while we were living in Sofia, Bulgaria.  My husband retired from the military after 20 years of service last November to give me the freedom to finally focus on my career.  Our kids are now 11 and 12 (almost 13) and I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to literally have the best of both worlds – raising kids and chasing my own career goals.  I work as a Scientist at Southwest Research Institute, actively doing research and publishing my work.  I’m hoping to complete my PhD within the next three years and continue with the work I am doing now. 

2. What first interested you in planetary science?

I have always loved space science and am thrilled to have the opportunity to work in planetary science.  It’s fulfilling a childhood dream.
3. How did you choose a graduate school? Do you have any tips for undergrads looking around?
Selecting schools has always been a matter of taking advantage of what is available, since family requirements have always been the dominating force in my life.
4. What parts of your postdoc did you find most useful?
I kind of skipped that stage.  I break tradition every chance I get .
5. Besides space science, what interests you, and how do you find time for it?
Family is my first priority, even above my work.  Watching my kids learn new things and accomplish their own goals is the most fulfilling part of my life.  One could say that my work is my hobby which makes it so much fun.  This mentality has helped me survive some things in my career that would have driven a younger person away.  The bullying and abusiveness that some individuals resort to in order to advance their own goals have been quite shocking for me to encounter and I’m grateful that my family has served as a refuge in the most difficult of times.
6. What’s one thing that your institution gets right in employing planetary scientists?
SwRI has a wonderful program for hiring graduate students.  This is what got me started in the field and gave me a chance to earn credibility (coming in as a “bored housewife”).  I’m a regular employee now with the security and benefits that go along with such status.  They take very good care of their employees with a great benefits package and a lot of support for scientists.  We are a “soft money” institute, but the Internal Research and Development program helps us to get a leg up in competing for funding, especially with large projects such as instrument development.  Many of our senior scientists advise graduate students and teach courses at local Universities and Colleges, so we are encouraged and supported by SwRI in developing the future members of our field.  I’m very happy where I work, and with the role that the Institute plays in this community.

Thanks, Kathleen!

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.

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