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Dr. Libby Hausrath- practice professional skills early

February 24, 2012

Dr. Libby  Hausrath is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas where she studies chemical weathering of basalts and phosphate mobility on Mars. Her recent paper  “Soil profiles as indicators of mineral weathering rates and organic interactions for a Pennsylvania diabase” in Chemical Geology  v. 290, pp 89–100 highlights her research which applies to both terrestrial and martian weathering:

Abstract:  Basaltic bedrock dissolves quickly, and its weathering rate is therefore important towards controlling the composition of natural waters, soil formation, and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Despite its importance, however, few reports of basalt or diabase and gabbro weathering rates exist in the literature, and most have been measured in laboratory dissolution experiments or based on watershed studies. Here, using elemental profiles measured through regolith on a Jurassic diabase dike in south-central Pennsylvania, we calculate time-integrated log dissolution rates (mol m− 2 s− 1) of the primary minerals plagioclase (− 14.9 s− 1) and augite (− 14.8), and of smectite (− 17.6), a secondary clay mineral formed in the soil. Characteristic patterns in elemental profiles are consistent with preserved signatures of corestone formation. Elemental and mineral signatures of the soils relative to the parent rock are compared to predictions from citrate-containing basalt column dissolution experiments. Depletion of apatite and of Al, Fe, Mn, Ti, P, Y, Ni, Cr, Sc, V, Ga, Cu, Zn, and La are observed in the upper meter of the profile relative to the parent rock.

I recently interviewed Dr. Hausrath  via email:

When/how did you first become interested in planetary science?

I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, which sparked my interest in environmental science and geology.  Then, when I was in graduate school, studying aqueous geochemistry, the MER rovers landed, and all of the exciting new data about water on Mars got me interested in water-rock interactions on Mars as well as on Earth.

You did a post-doc at JSC before joining the faculty at UNLV. What did you do for your postdoc? How did your postdoc (or grad school) experience prepare you for transitioning into faculty position?

My postdoc at JSC was great.  I think one of the most helpful things about my postdoc was writing a proposal for the work I was going to do, and then working to execute it – good practice for being a faculty member!  I worked on phosphate mobility on Mars, which, with my graduate students now, I am lucky enough to still be working on.

In addition to practicing writing proposals, I think another valuable experience in graduate school or a postdoc is to mentor undergraduate students.  Making the transition from being a graduate student to mentoring graduate students is not easy, but one of the things that made it easier was having mentored undergraduate students.  I also highly recommend the On the cutting edge workshops for graduate students and faculty members.  I attended both the graduate student and early career faculty workshops, and they are among the most useful few days I have spent in my entire professional life.

What advice do you have for undergraduate or graduate students considering a career in space science?

The things I try to help my students do, in addition to good research, of course, is hone their writing and speaking skills – that always stands you in good stead.  I also encourage them to apply for external funding – it is good practice for writing proposals, and prestigious if you receive it.  I encourage them to take the opportunity to mentor undergraduates, and I also would encourage everybody to apply for the NASA graduate fellowships and NASA Postdoc Fellowships – as I already indicated, I can’t say enough good things about it.

Dr. Hausrath also notes that she is always looking for good graduate students!

Thank you Libby for participating in our 51 Women in Planetary Science project!

We will continue the 51 Women in Planetary Science interviews in Susan’s honor.  We are sorting out how the blog will proceed in the future, but feel free to contact geochemom ( or any of the other blog contributors  if you would like to nominate yourself or a colleague to be  interviewed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2012 6:43 am

    Women of Science, Congratulations, I wish I were younger, I was a graphic designer for manuels at General Electric in 1960, now 76 years old, I watch with cheers for you all.

    • March 27, 2012 7:18 am

      You are never too old to have a passion for science – I wish I could introduce you to one of my favorite former students, who is about your age. She went back to school while teaching part time – she started out taking classes she enjoyed, and ended up completing a degree in earth science with an astronomy minor last year. No reason, just because she loved the science.

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