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Flying High: Two planetary scientists receive Zonta Amelia Earhart Fellowship

June 29, 2017

Meet Sara Port and Marie McBride, two of 35 recent recipients of Zonta’s Amelia Earhart Fellowship for women pursuing Ph.D./doctoral degrees in aerospace-related sciences or aerospace-related engineering. They are the only recipients this year whose research is in the field of planetary science. Congratulations!

port.1Sara Port attained a B.S. in Astronomy/Planetary Science and Physics from Stony Brook University in 2014. She is currently enrolled at the University of Arkansas pursuing a PhD in Space and Planetary Sciences. She is studying the formation of “metal frost” on the highlands of Venus through experiments and computer modeling. At the University of Arkansas, she tests metal frost mineral candidates in a chamber that simulates the temperatures, pressures, and atmospheric conditions on Venus to observe their stability. She will be traveling to Japan this summer to work with Dr. George Hashimoto on modeling the climate history of Venus to determine the origin of metal frost.


McBride-M_7698_cropMarie McBride is a PhD student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN advised by Dr. Briony Horgan. Marie received her BS in Solar, Earth, and Planetary Sciences from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2013. After graduation, Marie worked at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, CA as a member of the Mars Curiosity Rover’s MAHLI camera team before enrolling at Purdue to earn a PhD in Planetary Science. Marie’s research focuses on volcanic deposits found on the Moon. She uses spectroscopy of glasses on the lunar surface as well as analog samples on Earth to understand the volcanic eruptions from which they formed. Marie is a science team collaborator on both the Mars Science Laboratory and Mars 2020 rover missions.

Recent conference abstracts:

McBride M., Horgan B., and Gaddis L.R. (2017) Mapping Glass in the Marius Hills Volcanic Complex with Moon Minerology Mapper, LPSC XLVIII, abs. # 2989.

McBride M., Oxley B., and Horgan B. (2016) The Effects of Glass Crystallinity and Eruption Style on Visible/Near-IR and Thermal-IR Spectra of Volcanic Tephra, GSA, Paper No. 21-8.

Port S. T. and Chevrier V. (2017) The Stability of Metal Sulfides Under Venusian Surface Conditions and Their Relation to the Sulfur Cycle,  LPSC XLVIII, abs. #1117.

Port S. T., Kohler E., Chevrier V. (2017) Bismuth Tellurides and Sulfide Mixtures and Their Relation to Metal Frost on Venus, LPSC XLVIII, abs. #1081.


How did you first become interested in planetary science? Who/what inspired you?


Sara, at a recent public observing session.

Sara: When I was a small child my grandmother instilled in me a fascination with astronomy. I became voracious for new information on all topics in astronomy. By the time I was 10 year old I knew I wanted to be a researcher in planetary science. What captivates me about planets is how dissimilar they are to Earth and to each other. Each planetary body in this system and beyond has their own unique geological and atmospheric processes. For example, Saturn’s moon Titan rains liquid methane and is the only planetary body in our solar system that has lakes on its surface. Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system and snows metal. Facts like these are what excite and drive me to pursue a degree in planetary science in order to study and understand how these processes operate.


Marie and her grandfather, who gave her her first telescope for Christmas.

Marie: I have dreamed of being an astronaut the majority of my life. After attending Space Camp when I was 16, I realized that I wanted to study space sciences in my pursuit of becoming an astronaut. Planetary scientists helped train the Apollo astronauts and are the drivers of exploration in our solar system.




How did you choose your current institution?

Sara: When I first came across the University of Arkansas I was amazed at the diverse and unique research that was being accomplished at the Space Center. It is one of the very few Universities in the world that studies more than one or two planetary bodies; the Space Center completes research on 5 planetary bodies. This drew my attention because it offered multiple options for my dissertation research. Most planetary research is completed via computer modelling so I was surprised by how heavily their research focused on experimentation. I have previous experience in computer modelling and I did not enjoy it, so I was drawn to the research completed here. Dr. Vincent Chevrier, who is now my advisor, is also very well-known in the planetary science community, and has received funding for numerous proposals on various topics in planetary science and has frequently published papers over the course of his career.

Marie: I chose Purdue University to work with my advisor Dr. Briony Horgan. My goal for graduate school was to be able to study the lunar surface while maintain my involvement with Mars Rover missions. Briony is a participating scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover team, and is a collaborator for the Mastcam-Z camera on the future Mars 2020 rover. For research, she wanted a graduate student to use orbital spectroscopy to map volcanic pyroclastic deposits on the lunar surface. The combination of these planetary projects and Briony made Purdue the obvious choice for my graduate degree.



Marie (L) in front of a copy of the Curiosity rover, and Sara (R) in the lab.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

Sara: What I love most about being a researcher is traveling across the globe for conferences, and meeting researchers from around the world who are working on extraordinary and innovative projects in my field. My favorite conference is the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, because of the sheer number of planetary science research being presented over the course of the week.

Marie: My favorite moment in my career so far was August 5, 2012. I was an intern at NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the Mars Science Laboratory team, when Curiosity landed on the surface of Mars. Though I had only finished my junior year of undergrad, during the landing, I was in the room with the science team, an inspiring group of men and women that made the Curiosity rover capable of ground breaking science. When we received word of the successful landing, the room erupted in cheers, hugs, laughter, and happy tears. I watched grown scientists stare in disbelief as they realized the instrument they had worked on for over 20 years was going to take the first measurement on Mars. It was a momentous and inspiring occasion that enabled amazing science and exploration on the Martian surface. This internship and experience set the stage for me to continue to be a part of the Curiosity team and I have grown as a scientist with the help of the team.


How did you find out about this award and why did you apply for it?

Sara: I heard about this award through a faculty member in my department. I then applied because I thought the fellowship was a good fit for my research.

Marie: I found the Amelia Earhart Fellowship application online when exploring options for funding during graduate school. I had always admired Amelia Earhart for her bravery and her ability to forge forward in a male dominated field. In is an honor to hold a fellowship that bears her name.


What else should we know about you?


Sara: I am an advocate of STEM outreach, and the current president of the Space and Planetary Science Club on campus. I spend a lot of my free time organizing outreach events to the local schools, libraries, boy scout troops, and homeschool organizations. I also enjoy spending that time reading books, bouldering, and oil painting.


Marie:  McBride.1My goal is to become an astronaut and be the first woman to walk on the surface of the Moon. While walking on the Moon would be an amazing feat, realistically, many factors may make the dream impossible. If I cannot visit another planetary body myself, I hope to be a part of or lead teams to send cameras or other instruments on NASA planetary or human exploration missions.


Please share any advice you have for other graduate students in the field. 

Sara: Apply, apply, apply. Apply to fellowships, to internships, and to attend conferences. Getting accepted is great, but the act of applying is also good literature practice. It can also help organize your thoughts and ideas, which can help trigger new insight into your own research. Also, by attending conferences you can meet researchers who are working on the same, or similar topics, which allows you to ask question and brainstorm ideas. These networking interactions may even initiate future collaborations.

Marie: My greatest advice to other graduate students is to take advantage of the opportunities to network and meet other people in their field. In the past, professionals were students themselves and therefore can offer the advice on how to advance through graduate school and how to achieve your career goals. The advice of many great scientists have helped me get to where I am today and their support has made me feel welcome in the planetary science community.

Congratulations! Application information for the 2018 AE Fellowships will be posted on the Zonta website in July.

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