Dr. Jennifer Stern, Planetary Geochemist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, to Speak at October Meeting

On October 13, Dr. Jennifer Stern, Planetary Geochemist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, will speak at the next CSW Meeting at ACS Headquarters. Meeting logistics can be found below.

Abstract: Life on Mars? Chemical Indicators of Habitability on Mars as Measured by the Curiosity Rover

On August 6, 2012 at 1:32 a.m. EDT, the Mars Science Laboratory Rover Curiosity touched down in Gale Crater, making history as the largest and most capable rover to ever land on Mars. For just over four Earth years (or two Mars years), Curiosity has used its versatile payload, consisting of 10 instruments, to explore and assess Gale Crater as a potential habitat for life, past and present, to answer the question: could Mars have been capable of supporting life at some point in its history? To this end, Curiosity is characterizing the biological potential, geological and geochemical history, and the role of water as recorded in ~3.5 billion old rocks at Gale Crater. In particular, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite has revealed a great deal of new information regarding the chemical composition of the surface and atmosphere using gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, and tunable laser spectroscopy. SAM’s mission is to inventory the chemical and isotopic composition of the atmosphere, surface regolith, and rocks comprising “Mt. Sharp,” the 5 km high mound in the center of Gale Crater, with a focus on searching for organic molecules. By placing SAM’s measurements in the context of the geological observations provided by other payload instruments on Curiosity, we have evidence supporting both swiftly flowing water and an ancient lakebed that would have had water of moderate pH and alkalinity, confirming that this environment on ancient Mars was habitable.

Speaker Biography

Dr. Jennifer Stern is a Planetary Geochemist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, specializing in the study of the atmosphere and surface of Mars, and instrument development for geochemical measurements on a variety of planetary surfaces. She designed, manages, and operates the stable isotope facility in the Planetary Environments Laboratory at Goddard, in addition to developing techniques for in situ field measurements of trace gases of biological interest. Dr. Stern is a member of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover team and the Sample Analysis at Mars team focusing on using mass spectrometry for isotopic measurements and detection of nitrogen compounds.

Dr. Stern has a BA in Geology-Biology from Brown University and a PhD in Geochemistry from Florida State University.  She decided to apply her interest in geochemistry to astrobiology as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA Ames Research Center and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where she studied how organic molecules can be formed by non-biological processes occurring in meteorites and at hydrothermal vents.  Today, in parallel with her participation on the Curiosity team conducting experiments on Mars, she participates in field expeditions to places where geochemical processes similar to those that may have occurred on Mars are recorded in Earth’s rock record, such as Greenland, Svalbard (Norway), and southern Mexico.

October CSW Meeting Logistics

Date: Thursday, October 13

Time: 6:00 p.m. Check-in and social hour
6:30 p.m. Dinner
7:15 p.m. Presentation

Cost: $18 (Members and guests) / $9 (Students)

Location: ACS Headquarters, Marvel Hall (1155 16th St., N.W., Washington, DC)

Menu:  Meal will be catered by M.K. Catering, serving Veronique Chicken (Herb Chicken with White Grape-Mushroom Sauce) with Rice Pilaf, salad, bread, assorted cookies.  Vegetarian Option: Spinach & Scallion Tart, with salad and bread

RSVP by noon Monday, October 10 – [email protected] or by phone (messages only: 202-659-2650)

Please provide the names in your party when you RSVP.  The public is invited to attend.

You may attend the talk only, but reservations are appreciated. Those who make a dinner reservation, but are unable to attend, should send a check for the cost of their meal to the CSW office.

If you need any further information or would like to make a reservation, please contact the CSW office by email at [email protected] or by voicemail at 202.659.2650

Parking:  Parking is available in nearby commercial parking garages. Please be aware that garage closing times vary. Parking is also available on the street after 6:30 pm, but be aware that most parking meters are in effect until 10:00 pm and may be limited to 2 hours. You should check the individual meters for details and payment methods as some are no longer coin-operated.

Metro: Blue/Orange/Silver Line: McPherson Square or Farragut West. Red Line: Farragut North.