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Out of This World

University Feature

WUSTL Scientists of the Red Planet

Ray Arvidson, PhD, is the James S. Mcdonnell Distinguished University Professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences and director of the Earth and Planetary Remote Sensing Laboratory. A NASA deputy principal investigator, Arvidson has been instrumental in more than eight rover missions, in planetary orbiter operations, in key NASA science groups, in the Phoenix Mars Lander mission (as robotic arm co-investigator) and more. He divides his time between the two active rovers. Arvidson also leads the four-year undergraduate Pathfinder Program in International Sustainability, which includes research field trips, and he has launched scores of students into advanced scientific study and, ultimately, excellent careers in their fields. Dozens of his former Pathfinder and graduate students contribute to NASA interplanetary projects, including graduate student Gabrielle Coutrot and three seniors, in addition to the scientists named below.

Bethany Ehlmann, PhD, AB ’04, is a former Pathfinder student and Rhodes Scholar who earned two master’s degrees at Oxford University. Now a research scientist at JPL and assistant professor at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Ehlmann is a participating scientist on the MSL mission. She is closely affiliated with the ChemCam, a chemistry and camera instrument. It employs a telescopic laser spectrometer that reduces rock to plasma, whose atoms emit light in distinctive patterns that reveal the rock’s chemical composition. “Bethany is an up-and-coming leader,” Arvidson adds. “People are realizing that.”

Abby Fraeman, PhD Class of ’14, is a former National Science Foundation graduate fellow in Arts & Sciences and a current Olin Fellow who is earning her doctorate under Arvidson’s guidance. As a member of the science team for the MSL mission, she participates in her team’s tactical roles and also documents all decisions and their rationales.

Jennifer Griffes, AB ’03, MA ’06, while at Washington University, did research focusing on geomorphic and spectral mapping of the Martian surface using data from various orbiters and landers. After graduation, she worked at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, assisting in targeting, data analysis, and making maps to be used for geologic and geomorphic analyses of the Martian surface using the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. She also worked on Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landing site selection, using HiRISE images and other orbital data sets. She moved to Caltech in summer of 2008, where she continued work on MSL landing site selection, and now works on MSL operations. Other research projects include characterizing sedimentary layers in HiRISE images over a global scale. MSL is her fifth Mars mission.

Kim Lichtenberg, MA ’06, PhD ’10, is a mission systems engineer at JPL who conducts extensive research on the composition of Martian soils by using spectroscopy as a remote sensing technique to obtain information about the surface. As a graduate student at Washington U., she worked with NASA rover planners to develop and test rover extrication methods and maneuvers. She is a science planner on the MSL mission.

Jeff Marlow, AB ’07, was a Marshall Scholar at Imperial College, in London, where he researched life-detection strategies for future Mars missions. Now a graduate student at Caltech, he seeks to understand the limits of life on Earth and beyond by studying exotic microbial metabolisms. He has reported on topics including science for The New York Times and Wired magazine and posted blogs about the MSL mission, for which he is a planetary researcher, at “The Martian Diaries,” a NASA social media site.

Mitch Schulte, AB ’87, PhD ’97, is a NASA Mars program scientist and a former postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. His research includes field study of the habitats of organisms that live in extreme conditions as analogs for potential life in a Martian biosphere.

Kirsten Siebach, AB ’11, is a former Pathfinder student who became at 19 the youngest person to join the Phoenix Mars Lander team. Arvidson recalls that she soon was handling so much responsibility that people assumed she was a graduate student. As part of doctoral studies at Caltech, Siebach is working as an MSL mission documentarian and science activity planner. In these roles she records and programs the daily science activities constrained by data volume, power and time, and mediated by the geological, mineral and environmental teams.

• Rebecca Eby Williams, PhD ’00, worked with Arvidson in the late 1990s on fieldwork and planning for the Mars Surveyor Program, such as testing technologies in the Mojave Desert that NASA planned to use on Mars rovers. Williams is a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, in Tucson, Ariz., where her research includes water-carved landforms. She is a “keeper of the plan” for Curiosity; as such, she formalizes the science group’s requests, among other responsibilities.


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