Where are you from?
Port Jefferson, N.Y.
Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
Sputnik. I was amazed at the simple beeps coming back from space. I remember thinking and asking: "It's way out there?" as we clustered around the television. I also remember my whole family looking up at the sky from our backyard and being astonished as it flew across. Of course, it was a bit scary because Sputnik indicated a big lead in space exploration and rocket science by the Soviet Union.
Learn how to communicate effectively in both writing and speaking.This is essential so you can tell other scientists what you have discovered and let the public know how you are spending their tax dollars.
How did you end up working in the space program?
I was a physics major at Colgate University. I became interested in meteorites through a geophysics course I took during my senior year there. The professor, Jim McLelland, a great teacher and geologist, geared the course towards how we determine the composition of the whole Earth.
This included lessons learned from meteorites, and this inspired me to learn more about them. I spent my final semester at Stony Brook University (after running out of money for the expensive private school!), which worked out great because I was able to work with Oliver Schaffer, a meteorite expert and great man. After that, I was irrevocably hooked on planetary science.
What is a Cosmochemist?
Cosmochemists study meteorites and lunar samples to understand the history of the early solar system—how it formed, how and when planets formed, the bulk chemical compositions of the planets, and how planetary (and asteroidal) crusts formed and evolved. We use geochemistry, mineralogy, remote sensing, and mathematical modeling.
Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
I have continuous favorite moments. One of my favorite "types" of moments is using data for the first time -- making a plot of this against that, using a set of data nobody else has or looking at a new meteorite sample in the microscope. It is all new and exciting!
Who inspired you?
Jim McLelland at Colgate inspired me to pursue the geological sciences. Ollie Schaffer at Stony Brook showed me the excitement of using high-tech analytical equipment. Dieter Heymann, my advisor at Rice University, taught me how to do scientific research and gave me a lot of latitude to do it. And John Wood, my advisor when I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, encouraged me to think big. I don't know if I think as big as he does, but he inspired me to unleash my imagination.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
Successful planetary scientists need to have strong backgrounds in physics, chemistry and math. Get into research as early as you can, certainly as an undergraduate. Many colleges and universities have opportunities for undergraduate research. Finally, learn how to communicate effectively in both writing and speaking. This is essential so you can tell other scientists what you have discovered and let the public know how you are spending their tax dollars. For example, my colleague Linda Martel and I write and publish a web site devoted to cosmochemistry: Planetary Science Research Discoveries (see link below).
What do you do for fun?
I read books, some nonfiction, many novels and more than a few science books, including the history of science. I like watching movies, both in the theater and at home using DVDs. I enjoy walking in the cool Hawaii mornings on my route that takes me along the ocean.
If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Learn all you can about science and math, and think about your science all the time. Be open to ideas from fields outside your own: interdisciplinary science will become progressively more important in planetary science and science in general.