Volume 6, Issue 1 | Spring 2019
INSIDE EAPS Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University
FROM THE HEAD It is with great pleasure that I greet EAPS alumni as Department Head. I am thrilled to be working with such a wonderful group of people that has accomplished so much already, and I look forward to being part of a bright future. As the department moves forward, I am committed to clearly and effectively communicating the outstanding work of the EAPS faculty, staff, and students on campus, state-wide, nationally, and internationally. You will see parts of that in this issue â€“ undergraduates participating in field research, top-notch research staff, faculty serving as role models for future scientists, and alumni taking part in a Mars analog mission. As a team, we are committed to elevating our departmentâ€™s status scientifically and as a national role model for departmental structure, teaching, diversity, and the number and quality of undergraduate and graduate students. Through the stories in this magazine, as well as issues to come, we will share with you ways we are pursuing and accomplishing these goals.
Daniel Cziczo Daniel Cziczo Professor and Head
Purdue University Photo
Misc. Photos Provided By Dr. Daniel Cziczo, Ellen Czaplinski, Dr. Martin Doyle, Alexandra Dukes, Gryphen Goss, Logan Judy, Dr. Nathaniel Lifton, Dr. Michelle Thompson Cover photo provided by Ellen Czaplinski
Photo by Logan Judy
To submit materials for Inside EAPS, send them via email to: Logan Judy EAPS Communications Specialist firstname.lastname@example.org.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Photo provided by Alexandra Dukes
COVER STORY | 16
An all-Purdue team including EAPS alumni executed a Mars analog mission at The Mars Desert Research Station. Read about what they did there, why Mars analog missions are important, and what living at the station for two weeks is like.
New Book Features EAPS Scientist
To Understand Climate Change, We Need to Understand Weather Now
Student Feature: Gryphen Goss
9 Alumni Updates
New Faculty Member: Dr. Michelle Thompson
Staff Feature: Dr. Jani Sparks
Alumnus Highlight: Martin Doyle
NEWS BRIEFS STUDY BY DR. AGEE SHOWS TORNADO FATALITIES CONTINUE TO FALL Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the rate of tornadorelated fatalities increased faster than the rate of population growth. This trend continued until the start of the 20th century, according to a new study authored by Dr. Ernest Agee. Around 1916, that trend started to reverse. NOAA Photo
COLLABORATION LED BY DR. NIYOGI HELPS PREDICT INDIAN MONSOON RAINS Thunderstorms embedded within Indian monsoon systems can deluge areas with dozens of inches of rain in little time, causing severe flooding and the loss of hundreds of lives each year. Better predictions of when, where, and how much rain will fall is key to saving property and lives. Photo credit: Aditya Kuber, Mumbai
STUDY BY DR. ZHUANG FINDS NATURAL CARBON SINK MAY BECOME A CARBON SOURCE
Photo credit: Samantha Lloyd/Arizona State University School of Life Sciences
Ecosystems that host a carbon-dioxide rich type of soil called peat, known as peatlands, are the most efficient natural carbon sink on the planet. When undisturbed, they store more carbon dioxide than all other vegetation types on Earth combined. But when theyâ€™re drained and deforested, they can release nearly 6 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions each year. Climate researchers are worried that many of the peatlands soaking up carbon now will soon be doing the opposite. EAPS RADAR IMAGES NOW VIEWABLE BY PUBLIC In 2018, a low-power X-band radar was installed on the roof of Wang Hall, providing a more detailed and local view of winds and precipitation in the lower atmosphere. Now, the radar images are accessible via a website. At http:// weather.eaps.purdue.edu/xtrra (or http://tinyurl. com/xtrra), anyone can see the real-time images. Dr. Robin Tanamachi, the primary investigator of the project, said it was always intended to serve the public.
ALUMNUS HIGHLIGHT: DR. MARTIN DOYLE
Photos provided by Dr. Martin Doyle
EAPS alumnus Dr. Martin Doyle (PhD, ’02) has an array of impressive appointments in environmental science and policy. In addition to his roles in academia, he has policy experience through working for the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers. So it may surprise you to learn that Dr. Doyle’s path did not start with environmental science. He started not in hydrology or even policy, but in physics. “I left college as an undergraduate, and didn’t finish my degree at first,” he said. “I ended up unemployed, then got a job at Mount Rainier National Park backpacking water samples. When I moved back to school, I finished my physics degree and then did hydrology. It just turned out that once I figured out what I wanted to work on, I was a lot more successful.” Later, when Dr. Doyle came to Purdue as a PhD student, he was coming in as a non-traditional graduate student. He had already attained a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Mississippi, and was working for a consulting firm when he came across an opportunity at Purdue. Professor Jon Harbor had recently acquired a new project with funding for graduate students, and Dr. Doyle was immediately drawn to Dr. Harbor’s advising philosophy. “He told me the reason to come to Purdue was that he would basically give me a lab and a desk and help me find resources, but otherwise he’d stay out of my way. He really tried to recruit people who were leaving a job and going back to do a PhD, and that was me,” Dr. Doyle said. “The other big reason I chose Purdue was I knew it would have a world-leading expert in any topic I could come up with. It was clear that any direction my research went, I would have someone that was a stellar scientist to work with.” While a PhD student in environmental science, Dr. Doyle was introduced the world of environmental policy. He was working on a dissertation on dam removal, studying the geomorphic and biogeochemical processes that happen as a result. In order to do that, he had to find dams that were going to be removed. One of those was in a small town in Wisconsin, where Dr. Doyle started attending town council meetings. That experience increased his appreciation of the policy side of
scientific applications. Over time, the scope of his work grew, incorporating more policy elements, leading to opportunities to work within government. As a result, he has a pulse not only on the academic side of river science, but also what policy needs exist.
EAPS STUDENTS STUDY IN ICELAND
“When I put on my policy hat, the biggest problem I’ve seen in the U.S. has been aging infrastructure,” he said. “The vast majority of United States infrastructure was built in the midtwentieth century – sewer treatment plants, dams, roads, and more. A big chunk of that is water infrastructure, which is several decades old at this point. We need to be thinking about end of life decisions for those things, and how to pay for rehabilitation projects that often cost tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars for a single structure.” Dr. Doyle’s professional experience has been extensive and diverse. He credits a large part of this to the focus on writing during his graduate studies as a key element in his career development. “At Purdue, the academic standards and classes were just brutal. But my dissertation committee was also very thoughtful about writing, and teaching writing as a craft, how to think analytically and really care about how that is articulated. After I left Purdue, writing well was kind of a superpower I was able to bring everything else. If you’re not taught how to write in school and grad school, you won’t have another chance to learn it. And I’m finding now that it’s not necessarily common for students to be taught the craft of writing in science.” Dr. Doyle is a professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, as well as director of the Water Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Some EAPS students spent their spring break studying abroad in Iceland. Photos provided by Alicia Mohundro.
Dr. Tanamachi Featured in Science Book for Young Readers An EAPS assistant professor of atmospheric science is the subject of a recent publication; but I’m not talking about a journal article. I’m talking about a science book for elementary school children in grades five through seven, one that features role models in the sciences. The book, titled The Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms features one Dr. Robin Tanamachi, and follows her path to becoming a Photo courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers scientist, from her childhood interest to her current research, and includes scientific facts aimed at engaging young readers. Dr. Tanamachi says this combination is exactly what interested her when she was approached about serving as the subject. “I knew it wasn’t just going to be, ‘What is a tornado?’” she said. “I was more interested in targeting that higher age range, particularly because there are studies that show right around 6th grade, a lot of girls are losing interest in STEM. I thought stepping in and providing myself as a role model at that point was very important.” The book, written by Mary Kay Carson with photos by Tom Uhlman, is part of a larger series that aims to interest that same age group in several of the sciences, including astronomy, aeronautical engineering, and biology. Carson said that Dr. Tanamachi’s work, combined with her enthusiasm for the project, made her an excellent choice for the book. “Dr. Tanamachi is someone who values science communication to the public,” Carson said. “It takes time, effort, and patience to coordinate with photographers, explain radar principles to a biology major like myself, review manuscripts, and answer endless emails. Dr. Tanamachi understands that the next generation of scientists are being inspired by who they see as scientists in the media. That includes books.” This spring, the pair will accompany Dr. Tanamachi on a weeklong field research excursion as part
of an undergraduate course at Purdue, documenting activities with a new, updated radar and student interactions on a live blog in support of the book. This activity is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. “They came out for one day of VORTEX-Southeast, and that was a gray, rainy day that wasn’t very exciting,” Dr. Tanamachi said. “We hope we can give them a better show this time.” Having the class field trip professionally documented also allows Dr. Tanamachi, her co-instructor Dr. Daniel Dawson, and their students to concentrate on data collection and training students. “We like to tell people about what we’re doing in real time, usually over Twitter because we can post quickly, and it has minimal impact on our field activities,” she said. “Having Mrs. Carson and Mr. Uhlman along means we can focus more on our science and our teaching. They can provide our followers with a more detailed descriptions and better images of our activities than we can.” The book is published by HMH Books for Young Readers.
PHOTOS FROM THE FIELD The Welp , Shepson, and Baldwin lab groups teamed up in fall 2018 to see where water evaporating from Lake Michigan moves through the atmosphere, using water vapor stable isotope tracer measurements from Purdue’s Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (ALAR). Photos provided by Dr. Welp and Dr. Shepson.
AN ANCIENT LANDSCAPE EXPOSED
Photo credit: Matthew Kennedy, Earth Vision Institute
Research coauthored by a Purdue professor has found a surprising result – rocks that have not been icefree for more than forty-thousand years. The results, published recently in Nature Communications, utilize plant and rock samples collected at the margins of retreating ice caps on Baffin Island, in Arctic Canada. Dr. Simon Pendleton, the lead author of the study from the University of Colorado, dated in situ, rooted mosses revealed by retreat of small ice caps using radiocarbon (14C). Resulting ages indicate the last time the ice advanced over the site, killing the mosses but preserving them in growth position. Dr. Nathaniel Lifton of EAPS analyzed rock samples collected adjacent to the mosses at key sites for 14C produced within the mineral quartz by exposure to the flux of cosmic rays continually bombarding Earth’s surface (in situ 14C). The concentration of in situ 14C in these samples, measured at the Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Laboratory (PRIME Lab), was used to check whether these sites may have also been exposed to cosmic radiation during earlier ice margin fluctuations. Taken together, the results they found from the moss and rock samples were quite surprising. “We have typically been finding vegetation ages on Baffin of hundreds to a few thousand years, occasionally up to approximately nine thousand years. But one moss sample from a small, high-altitude ice cap had a radiocarbon age that was essentially at or near the limit of the traditional 14C method – >40-50 thousand years,” Dr. Lifton said. “Subsequently, Pendleton and his advisor Gifford Miller,the project’s principal investigator, sampled mosses from 30 sites adjacent to other similar high-altitude ice caps – 14C ages from those mosses were also consistent with being under ice cover for more than 40,000 years.” The research team used the in situ 14C measurements combined with ice cover modeling to assess whether the ice caps might have retreated and readvanced over each site more than once during that time period. In all but one sample, results were consistent with continuous ice cover for the entire period indicated by the dead moss samples. But the implications of the glacier retreat for that region don’t stop there. By combining these measurements with other climate records, the authors concluded that these samples likely have been covered even longer.
“The combined measurements and modeling indicate that these surfaces have been buried continuously for at least 40,000 to 50,000 years, but given the temperature history of the region, based on Greenland ice cores and other proxy data, it’s likely that the last time those ice caps had experienced summer warmth comparable to now is about 115,000 years ago,” Dr. Lifton said. The ice caps on Baffin Island are some of the last remnants of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered most of Canada and large portions of the northern United States, including the northern half of Indiana, about 21,000 years ago. Dr. Lifton was a co-PI on the project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. Other coauthors include Miller, Scott Lehman, Sarah Crump, and Robert Anderson of the University of Colorado - Boulder, and John Southon of the University of California - Irvine.
DR. HARSHVARDHAN RETIRES
Photo by Logan Judy
After more than 30 years at Purdue, including tenures as EAPS Department Head and Associate Dean, Dr. Harshvardhan has officially retired. Dr. Harshvardhan first came to Purdue in 1988 from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as an associate professor. He then became an integral part of the department, serving as head for eight years, and also serving as Associate Dean of Graduate Education and INternational Programs in the College of Science. His research excelled as well, and he was given the Henry G. Houghton Award by the American Meteorological Society in 1993, and was also named an AMS Fellow in 1999. Even after serving in those administrative roles, he continued to be involved in the department. He became Associate Head in 2012, and served as a course shepherd, arranging courses for the atmospheric group, and was a familiar face for many students, frequently teaching undergraduate courses. In research, in administration, and in teaching, Dr. Harshvardhan has significantly contributed to the excellence of our department. The EAPS Department wishes Dr. Harshvardhan the best in all his future endeavors.
EAPS STUDENT SPENDS SUMMER ON THE ICE
Photos provided by Gryphen Goss
When EAPS student Gryphen Goss tells you about her summer, you won’t hear any mention of beaches, movies, or concerts. You will hear her talk about ice, and lots of it. That’s because she, along with other students, professors, and researchers, was working in the Juneau Icefield Research Program. The Juneau Icefield Research Program gives students a wide range of training in Earth sciences, wilderness survival, and scientific field work in the Coast Mountains of Alaska and British Columbia. The beginning of the program is spent learning safety protocol and mountaineering skills, before moving on to scientific knowledge. These skills were more involved than they may sound – travel included walking with shoes that had two-inch spikes beneath them to pierce the ice, known as “crampons.” They traveled a total distance of about 85 miles, carrying a load of 50 pounds. “The environment is changing every single day,” she said. “If you’re traversing across the ice, that ice is going to look different the next day because it changes so rapidly. As the summer progresses and things melt, the ice changes, so we were constantly checking the ground to see if the ice was solid.” And yet. even with the challenges of traveling on ice, Goss said the lifestyle of the eight-week trip was refreshing. After returning home, she frequently finds herself wishing she was in the mountains again. “The whole lifestyle was so minimal. There was no running water or electricity (until nighttime for a few hours), no cell service, I didn’t talk to people unless it was hand-written, and I only had five sets of clothing, which I hand-washed,” she said. “Living that way
at the moment felt like a hassle, but now I miss it. Out there, we were able to only focus on what was happening right now, and the purpose of the research. It was more simple and comforting.” The project’s research spans across several inter-related academic areas, such as geophysics, biogeochemistry, and GIS. Goss, along with her fellow students, was able to spend some time working in each of the disciplines, gaining a wide breadth of field research experience. The research analyzes the livelihood of the glaciated region now, what it was in the past, and how it will change in the future. This is done through a variety of field research tasks. The isotope research group, for example, collected snow samples, while the mass-balance research group dug pits to measure density. “Each day was slightly different, but we collected samples for a whole month so we could compare it over a longer period of time,” she said, “and you could see how that changes depending on where you were, because each area reacts differently.” At the end of the eight-week program, students presented the results of the research to the residents of Atlin, a small town in British Columbia, Canada. The group of residents that attend the talks are mostly the same from year to year, allowing them to see the continual progression of the research measurements. This also gives the students practice in describing research in a way that is more likely to incite interest to individuals outside of academia. “We always try to draw it back to the local aspect – how does this affect them personally?” she said. “So, for example, we point toward economic impacts on local regions. Melting glaciers affect the ocean and raise the sea level, but it also effects ecosystems, which in turn effects coastal regions that feed off of fisheries.” The totality of this experience – doing field research, interacting with other researchers, and relaying that research to others – has inspired Goss to pursue graduate school. This inspiration came not just from the work but also from the people; faculty rotated into the program every two weeks from all over the world. The experience and the connections has given Goss a clarity of vision – to become a glacial geomorphologist.
TO UNDERSTAND CLIMATE CHANGE, WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND WEATHER NOW Purdue University Photo/Rebecca Wilcox
by Kayla Zacharias Climate scientists have known for decades that there’s more to climate change than higher temperatures. Sea levels are rising, wildfires are blazing and droughts are diminishing water supplies across the globe. Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and thunderstorms, are likely to get worse as well. But in order to predict how much these storms will change in a warmer world, we need to understand how they work in the current climate. Dan Chavas, an assistant professor of atmospheric science at Purdue University, is trying to solve that dilemma. “When people ask how storms will change in the future, my question is, ‘How well do we understand how that phenomenon works in the climate in general?’” he said. “Sometimes that intermediate step gets skipped. If you don’t have a basic understanding of the relationship between climate and whatever kind of storm you’re looking at, it’s hard to say you could answer the climate change question.” Despite causing hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars of damage each year in the U.S., there’s a lot about hurricanes we still don’t understand. Location, water temperature, pressure and cloud circulation all play a role in the ultimate severity of the storm, but it isn’t totally clear how they work together. Researchers don’t yet understand what sets the size of a hurricane, either. Storms can be very large or very small and have the same maximum windspeed. As an expert in the physics of extreme weather, much of Chavas’ work to date has focused on what controls the size of a hurricane and how wind speed changes as a function of distance from the center of the storm. More recently, he’s started trying to determine what sets the frequency at which hurricanes form. There are about 90 tropical storms on Earth each year, but no one really knows what governs that number.
“This is a big open question in our field – we don’t know why there aren’t nine or 900,” Chavas said. “I’m researching the formation of hurricanes to figure out why they pop up where they do, what governs the frequency, and how that varies with latitude and in general with space and time.” Chavas uses computer models to simulate storms on Earth. In his research, he often compares two versions of the planet – one that looks a lot like the actual Earth, and a highly simplified version where land doesn’t exist, oceans cover the planet entirely and the sun shines the same everywhere. In this imaginary, uncomplicated world, there are thousands of tropical cyclones. “They have a lot of interesting properties that are potentially very relevant to the real world,” Chavas said. “Like a biologist uses a mouse or a fruit fly as an experimental testing ground, we use a simplified version of the Earth. We can manipulate what happens there – make the world spin twice as fast, or make it bigger or smaller – and test theory.” For a really good estimate of how extreme weather will change in the future, researchers would need a physical understanding of how these phenomena work alongside forecast simulations – to look at both of them simultaneously and see if they match up. But the tension between physics theory and real-world phenomena in weather and climate science makes this difficult. Many physicists work in settings that are simpler than the actual climate system, sometimes so much so that their results don’t apply to the real world. On the other hand, weather forecasting tends to be practically oriented. Many meteorologists are focused on creating accurate forecasts, and if they can do that, they see less of a need to understand the underlying physics. By bringing his research findings from the simplified world to the real world, Chavas is closing this gap. “We can always simulate climate into the future, but it helps a lot if we have theories for understanding how weather phenomena work and how they arise in a system that extends to any climate,” he said. “If we know how things will change whether the climate is 10 degrees warmer or 10 degrees cooler, or if some other aspect of the climate system is altered, then we can finally say we understand it really well.”
Purdue University Photo/Rebecca Wilcox
Having the computer power to run a global climate model that resolves smaller storms became a reality only in the last decade. Climate models can predict changes in precipitation fairly well, but as they move toward hurricanes and tornadoes, these smaller-scale systems become more difficult to resolve. The models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body which produces regular climate change assessment reports, doesn’t include tornadoes at all. Without huge climate models to provide accurate predictions of severe weather, Chavas has turned his focus closer to home, in the Rocky Mountains. “A hypothesis that’s been floating around the scientific community for a long time says that there’s a hot spot for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes over North America,” he said. “The idea is that having the Rocky Mountains to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the south creates a conducive environment for extreme weather events.” If the mountains are essential for storm formation, then removing them should eliminate severe weather (so the hypothesis goes). Hypothetically, on a planet completely covered by water, there would be no severe thunderstorms. Chavas has recently started testing these assumptions in climate models where he manipulates these features on an imaginary Earth. He hopes to publish preliminary results on this within the next several months. “What features are essential to the formation of severe weather, and how might the magnitude of thunderstorms and tornado activity depend on aspects of the mountains, or the relationship between where the mountain and bodies of water are?” he said. “Most research to date only considers our current configuration of North American topography and land surfaces, from which we can make assumptions about how that gives rise to severe weather on Earth. But until we do experiments where we change those parameters, we won’t be sure we understand these systems very well.” Chavas’ research aligns with Purdue’s Giant Leaps celebration, acknowledging the university’s global advancements made toward a sustainable economy and planet as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. This is one of the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.
FACULTY FEATURE: DR. MICHELLE THOMPSON
Photos provided by Dr. Michelle Thompson
“I think it’s the destiny of humankind to really expand beyond this planet. People didn’t think we would land on the moon or send spacecraft to Mars. It’s a matter of time and a matter of dollars, but I think we’ll get there one day.” Those are the words of Dr. Michelle Thompson, assistant professor of planetary science. She knows what’s she talking about, too - Dr. Thompson studies planetary materials, investigating samples that are brought back from spacecraft missions. Her lab does this work with experiments that rival your craziest dreams, instruments like ion radiation guns and pulsed lasers, and it’s work that’s vital for the future of planetary science. “I study a process called space weathering,” she said. “Things like micrometeorite impacts and solar wind irradiation are altering airless body surfaces in space. It’s really important to understand those processes because they influence our interpretation of surface compositions we derive from remote-sensing spacecraft. To understand these processes, we bring the surface of the moon into the laboratory and simulate those events.” That’s where the lasers come in. Her group uses pulsed lasers to simulate micrometeorite impacts events as lasers can increase the temperature of the samples rapidly. To simulate solar winds, her group, shoots ions at the samples, usually hydrogen and helium, the major components of the solar wind. Other experiments include in situ heating inside the electron microscopes under vacuum conditions. Her interest in and fascination
with planetary materials goes back to a formative internship. While an undergraduate student at Queen’s University, she interned at the Johnson Space Center, and it was there her passion was ignited. “I got to hold lunar soil from the Apollo 11 mission for the first time. It was just so surreal, thinking that Neil Armstrong actually picked this up and put it in a bag. It has enabled an entire generation of science, and the thrill and excitement of that has never gone away.” After graduating with first class honors from Queen’s University, she went on to the University of Arizona, where she received her Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Planetary Sciences. Soon after, she went back to NASA as a post-doctoral research fellow in Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science. It was during that time that she nearly became an astronaut herself. The Canadian Space Agency only recruits for astronauts every 8-10 years, and Dr. Thompson applied, along with about 4,000 other individuals. While she was not ultimately chosen as one of the new astronauts (only two were), she was one of the top 32 finalists. As a result of her placement, she was able to train alongside the other finalists in a regimen that was both physically and mentally challenging. “It was really intense,” she said. “We had to go through medical evaluations, problem-solving exercises, and emergency-response scenarios, like fighting fires, saving sinking ships in hypothermic water, and we had drills in crashed helicopters. I didn’t know I had that kind of capability in me, and I think it’s given me perspective and something I try to pass on to my graduate students, that even though it’s tough and it’s hard, you can do it.” The experience also provided opportunities to talk to scientists from a variety of backgrounds, some of them outside academia. Dr. Thompson said she relished the experience that provided to talk about the synergy between the two – how the work of scientists and astronauts bolster each other, sometimes for decades. “People are always really surprised at how much we have in our collections that nobody’s looked at. The Apollo missions brought back 800 pounds of rocks, and only a small fraction have ever been studied. People think the Apollo missions were over in the 1970’s, but we still have this huge wealth of material to go through that no one has looked at before.” But Dr. Thompson’s lab doesn’t only look at materials from past missions. She hopes to receive samples from ongoing missions, including OSIRIS-REx of NASA and Hayabusa2 of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), both currently at their target asteroids and bringing back samples within the next five years. And she’s excited that Purdue is where she would be working on them. “The community and culture in this department is amazing,” she said. “I’ve never worked somewhere that is so welcoming and everyone is excited in what everyone else is doing. The undergrads and grad students really want to be here and it makes it such a joy to come to work every day.”
Photo Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
Photos provided by Ellen Czaplinski and Alexandra Dukes
INVESTIGATING MARS FROM EARTH In a strange habitat surrounded by red soil, EAPS alumna Ellen Czaplinski dons a special suit so she can go outside of her habitat and gather samples for experiments. If her radio contact is interrupted, the mission is aborted and she heads straight back to the habitat. She’s not on Mars; she’s on a simulated habitat in Utah. But still, she says the impact of the experience is immersive. “It looks very similar to a lot of the pictures of Mars from the perspective of the rovers,” she said, “even in the color of the landscape – there are very vibrant red colors and different horizontal layers due to the different colors of the clay minerals. It really does look like you’re on Mars.” The mission was an expedition to a simulated habitat, where researchers took pains to live as astronauts would live on Mars for two weeks. These details required only using water that is brought in, living in extremely restricted quarters, and stepping into an airlock before venturing outside the habitat in an EVA
suit (Extra-Vehicular Activity). This is not the first time that Purdue personnel have participated in such a mission, but it is the first time that an allPurdue crew has gone to the station. The team represented EAPS, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Chemistry. The reason for the mission is simple: it’s really expensive to travel to Mars. By doing these analog missions, scientists can run experiments with a simulated Mars environment, and refine scientific knowledge about the real Mars. The team, dubbed “Martian Makers,” did just that at The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), which is owned and operated by The Mars Society. “All of the projects in this analog need to be something that cannot be done in just any lab,” said Dr. Cesare Guariniello, Commander of the mission, who has connections to both EAPS and Astronautical Engineering. “We cannot simulate gravity or atmospheric conditions, but we can do everything else, including experiments in geology, microbiology, and chemistry.” To execute the mission with as much accuracy as possible, the crew had to institute strict protocol for EVAs. Even movement to different parts of the habitat required some consideration.
Crew members Kasey Hilton, Denys Bulikhov, and Dr. Cesare Guariniello.
“We have to get special permission for the EVAs,” Czaplinski said. “We have to say where we are going, who is going, and why we’re going. Inside the habitat, we have aboveground tunnels that are connected to the greenhouse, a science dome where I would do my experiments, and a solar observatory. On Mars, the tunnels would be completely enclosed and pressurized, so we just assume for the Martian simulation we would not have to wear the EVA suits, but we couldn’t just hang out in the tunnels, either.” The team worked on a variety of experiments. As the crew geologist, Czaplinski collected samples of rocks and sand and compared them across different environments, especially different types of clay minerals related to water. The team also grew small amounts of Crew members Denys Bulikhov, Jake Qiu, and Kasey Hilton in the airlock crops in a green room attached to the habitat, including radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and spinach. Other mission experiments touched on psychological and biological elements crucial to outer space missions. For example, one experiment measured levels of stress during EVA expeditions. The crew took resting-level measurements that included cortisol levels, and then took the same measurements after EVA activity. In another experiment, health and safety officer Jake Qiu studied the microbial ecosystem in microgreens to determine the impacts of humans on the health of plants in the greenhouse. Challenges to the team were more than just scientific, or even logistical. Living in such close quarters for any length of time can result in personnel issues. For this reason, astronauts, even teams from
Ellen Czaplinski pilots the crew’s ATV, which simulates roving vehicles on the Martian landscape.
different countries, such as inhabitants of the International Space Station, frequently do extensive team-building exercises to prep for the mission. This is so critical to the success of a mission like this that The Mars Society, the organization that operates the analog site, includes a question on the ability to live with people in a small environment on their application. In preparation for these conditions, The Martian Makers team mimicked the team-building philosophy of real-life astronauts as much as they could. “We met several times, had dinner together, and had skype calls with individuals that were off-campus so we could have three to four months of bonding before leaving, which helped a lot,” Dr. Guariniello said. “The attitude of the crew was exceptional. We had a generator loss at the habitat, and so we had to be in low-power consumption for a whole day and night, and we all stuck together and had a positive attitude. If you don’t know the people ahead of time, that’s when things can go downhill.” Having had a positive experience, however, many of the team members would jump at the opportunity to do another analog mission. While not all team members will return, there is another all-Purdue crew planned for the 2019-2020 campaign, the third to be composed entirely of Boilermakers. Dr. Guariniello holds a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics, and is pursuing a M.S. degree in Planetary Geology. Czaplinski holds a B.S. in Planetary Science from EAPS, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arkansas, studying Titan.
STAFF FEATURE: DR. JANI SPARKS The job of a scientist is a lot more complex than using advanced machinery in a lab coat. But Dr. Jani Sparks, Stable Isotope Specialist at EAPS, has gotten as close to that description as she can. Dr. Sparks is responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment in the Purdue Isotope Lab, which EAPS faculty Drs. Timothy Filley, Greg Michalski, and Lisa Welp are affiliated with. This includes processing samples, instituting safety measures, troubleshooting machinery, and Photo by Logan Judy training new students. She also sometimes helps with method development, figuring out the best way to analyze new samples for research purposes. “I always knew that I wanted to have a lab component to whatever I did; being a tenure-track professor was never something I wanted,” she said. She arrived at EAPS through a route that included not only geology, but also archaeology and anthropology. Her education was nothing if not diverse. She created her own degree path for her undergraduate degree, and was thus award a Bachelor of Philosophy rather than Bachelor of Science, her major being Interdisciplinary Studies. While she was studying archaeology for her master’s degree, her advisor introduced her to the geology department, which resulted in a blending of both disciplines for her graduate work. This was preceded by a field school experience during her undergraduate work in which she worked on a dig on San Salvador, and learned how archaeological samples were cleaned and catalogued as part of an excavation. All of this helped Dr. Sparks converge on a path that increasingly reached across multiple disciplines. “My Master’s degree archaeology advisor was involved in stable isotopes, and he introduced me to some people in the geology department. I learned that I could still have this interdisciplinary aspect, while still looking at animal bones on the archaeology side.” Stable isotope research was the link. Part of her archaeology graduate work, for example, was analyzing bones from sites in Trinidad to see how far from their home people used to travel to hunt and gather resources. As she expanded into geology and environmental science, she explored other application of stable isotopes, studying the impact of sulfur on vegetation near coal power plants, among other projects. Now, working with a wide array of laboratory equipment and having some involvement in faculty research projects, she’s found a great balance between academia and laboratory work. And it’s where she wants to be. “This gives me the best of both worlds. I’m still involved in a little bit of research, but I get to be in the lab every day.”
2000 – 2009 Dr. Suzanna Zurn-Birkhimer (M.S., ‘99, Ph.D. ‘03) received the Distinguished Science Alumni award.
Do you have an update you’d like for us to share with other alumni? Contact: Logan Judy, EAPS Communications Specialist, email@example.com.
EVENTS GSA 2019
September 22-25, 2019 Phoenix, AZ
December 9-13, 2019 San Francisco, CA EAPS will hold a reception at some of these meetings. Please check for updates at http://www.eaps.purdue. edu/alumni.
EAPS - Purdue University 550 Purdue Mall Drive West Lafayette, IN 47907
Dr. Ken Ridgway with a group of students for a field research excursion in Texas in 2012. Photo provided by Dr. Ridgway.
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