Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Meet Our Guides

This field trip has been made possible by the efforts of many different people, several of which who will be with us in Arizona.  We will be led on our expedition by a group of talented geologists and planetary scientists.  As they are an essential part of our experience, we thought it would be a good idea to introduce them to you now.  So here they are (in no particular order).

Dr. James (Jim) Rice is an astrogeologist at NASA Goddard.  He is a member of the Science Team for the Mars Rover Missions.  But his experience with Mars goes even deeper, as he worked on both the Mars Odyssey and Mars Polar Lander missions.  He has a long history with working with planetary analog sites, which has taken him to locations across the globe, including the Arctic, Antarctic, Iceland, Hawaii, California, and, most importantly for us, Arizona.  In fact, Dr. Rice received his Ph.D. at Arizona State University, so we will have a very knowledgeable guide of the area!

Dr. Shawn Wright is currently a postdoctoral fellow in geology at Auburn University.  Like Dr. Rice, Shawn received his Ph.D. at Arizona State.  His specialties include the effects of impact cratering, and has done fieldwork at several different impact sites on Earth.  He is also interested in the geologic history of Mars, and is a member of the Minerology/Chemistry Team for the Mars Exploration Rovers.  Dr. Wright compares field, remote, and laboratory data of Meteor Crater and Lonar Crater, India (in basalt) to Mars data sets from rovers and orbiters, so he will be able to draw the link to what we observe in the field to what we see on Mars. 

Dr. Patrick Burkhart is an alumni of the LPSA field trip program.  He traveled along with the 2011 program to the Channeled Scablands in Washington state (more details on that trip can be found here:  Dr. Burkhart will reprise his role again this year by hosting a seminar for all of us interns here at Goddard to get us into the mindset of a geologist.  His particular interest is hydrogeology, and he has unfortunately done extensive work in the Black Hills of South Dakota, missing out on the beautiful scenery of its northern neighbor (clearly there is no bias from the author, a North Dakota native).  Dr. Burkhart adds a depth of knowledge of the processes that helped to form the features that we will be visiting.

 Another returning guide is Dr. Charles Schulz, Emeritus (lovingly referred to as "Dr. Death"), also from Slippery Rock University.  While retired, geology remains in his heart and mind.  His main interests include igneous petrology and minerology.  As a professor, he was notorious for his classes' difficulty, but he will channel that tough attitude towards making all of this year's interns into adept field geologists.

Dr. Cynthia Cheung has been the heart and soul of the Lunar and Planetary Science Academy since the program's inception in 2009.  Her organizational prowess and dedication to LPSA has made this trip possible. When she is not working on the internship program, Cynthia spends her time working as the Education and Public Outreach lead for the Astrobiology division at Goddard.  If that wasn't enough, she is also a member of the Autonomous Nano-Technology Swarm (ANTS) group, and is the project manager for the tetrahedral robotic prototype developed by this group.  Her other projects and achievements are too numerous to name, so we are very fortunate to have Cynthia as a member of our expedition.

The last member of our team is Dr. Ann Parsons.  Ann has been a mentor with the LPSA program since 2010.  This is her second year joining along in the field research (her first was to the Racetrack Playa in 2010).  Ann works more on the instrumentation side of geo- and planetary science, and is currently working on an active neutron and gamma ray instrument that can be used for astrobiology and geochemistry purposes.  Ann has a leadership background, heading the Planetary Nuclear Instrumentation Group.  The skills she learned by directing that group will undoubtedly come in handy when trying to wrangle our group of 28 students!

Well, that's the team this year! There is a lot of expertise in this crew, so we are sure to learn a lot this summer.  If you want to know more about all of the interns themselves, check out our bio blog at 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Adventure Begins

The LPSA interns have all arrived and are settled into our (fabulously decorated) sorority house.  Now that everyone has gotten into the work routine, it's time to shake things up again!  We are finalizing our plans for this year's field trip destination - Arizona!  

In only 2 weeks, we will be heading out to explore a wide range of geological features including the Grand Canyon, the sedimentary layers of which are analogs to those in Gale Crater, the landing site of the Mars Science Laboratory. While there, we will also explore the differences between volcanic craters and impact craters, so a trip to each type of crater is on the books.

Before we leave for the expedition, we have a lot to learn.  We will be having a geology crash course from Dr. Pat Burkhart of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania this Friday.  He is coming to Goddard to teach us about the science and geology of the region.  We will even get our hands dirty, looking at many different rock samples! 

Overall, we are getting extremely excited to go.  The field trips in years past have always been amazing learning experiences (not to mention a ton of fun!).  Check back soon for all of the details of our 2012 Arizona Adventure!!