+ Current Research
I am currently employed at the SETI Institute in
Mountain View, near
San Jose in the South San Francisco Bay area of California. I work as a
research scientist investigating Mars, particularly the dynamic polar
regions, which are covered in seasonal ice frosts. I am currently
constructing seasonal maps of water and carbon dioxide ice and gas
abundance in the polar regions.
I just completed a NASA Postdoctoral Program at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field.
Prior to my Postdoc, I completed my PhD in planetary sciences
at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in
During my Postdoc studies, I worked at the SETI
Institute with Dr. Janice Bishop, who is a co-invesitgator on the Compact Reconnaissance Infrared
Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).
This instrument is currently
onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO or Mister Oh). It
arrived at Mars in March 2006 and after a six month aerobraking phase,
it was turned in November 2006 and has been mapping at Mars ever since.
My CRISM releated research page is here.
Mars Water and
the Mars Polar Regions
As a part of the CRISM
targeting team, I am assisted Dr. Rob Green from JPL with targeting
Mars polar targets for CRISM. This involves picking out targets that
CRISM will observe and then analysing the images that come back. The
Mars Polar regions are an ever changing and fascinating region of the
Solar System, where carbon dioxide and water ice interact at
temperatures down to minus 180 degrees Celcius. It's unlikely any
organisms live there, but CRISM will be looking for seasonal changes in
mineralogy and tracking the movement of water and carbon dioxide ices
from the surface and into the atmosphere in order to understand how
water ice on Mars behaves on that planet today.
I've started work on a spectral analysis program
that will be used to analyse the CRISM data as it comes back to Earth.
It is called MR PRISM, and will eventually be made public. Stand by for
My PhD work concentrated on
using high resolution spectrometers (which record light in various
parts of the electromagnetic spectrum) to look at the surface of the
Earth. This work I am now continuing on Mars, where similar
spectrometers are being used to probe the Martian surface.
My favourite place in the
world is Western Australia, and several of my field sites are based
there. Western Australia is home to only 2 million people, and yet
covers almost half of Australia - about 3 times as large as Texas.
Western Australia is also the oldest part of the Earth's surface - many
regions data back 3.5 billion years, almost three quarters of the
Earth's history. It's an amazing place.
Western Australia is an arid
place, home to many lakes which get wet during winter and dry out for
long periods of time. Many of these lakes are acidic - with pH levels
of 4 or less. This makes them inhospitable places - but could make them
the closest thing on Earth to a Martian environment - hence my interest.
Sulfates have been detected
in large abundances on Mars. On Earth, we often find sulfates in areas
such as dry lake beds, where sulfate salts have built fragile crystals
as water has evaporated.
I am using computer programs
to solve the Schrodinger wave equation for sulfate structures in order
to determine electron probability densities and bonds strengths, and
eventually their vibrational spectra. With this information, it will be
possible to link light absorptions with sulfates directly to the
underlying causes of the absorption - molecular bonding within the
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