Day at Work: Planetary Research Scientist

My name is Margarita Marinova and I’m a research scientist at Nasa Ames Research Center. I’m mostly interested in planets. Ah, a lot of it is Mars but I also study Earth a lot and many of the other planets of the solar system. I think the biggest keys to success is being passionate about something, and allowing yourself to be passionate about something. Ah, I certainly know a lot of people, who, in high school and I told them that I wanted to be an astronaut. And I wanted to study Mars — sorta laugh at it and be like, “haha right, of course you want to go to space.” Nasa Ames Research Center is one of the research centers located in California. It does a lot of things. Uh, a lot of it’s beginnings were in aeronautics — and it has a lot of wind tunnels. But, it now also has a really large planetary sciences group, and that’s the group that I am currently involved with. This whole thing is our walk in freezer, which is kept at, ah, zero fahrenheit so about, minus, ten minus fifteen celsius. It’s really cold in there. Um, and, what we do is, we have our samples frozen so we can do a biology analysis on them, but we can also test some of our field techniques. I really love asking the question why and I think that is one of my favorite things about my job, and not just asking it but having the time and resources to go an answer that question why — ah, is really exciting for me. So with this one, it went in pretty easy, but its surprising that actually with ice, it doesn’t work as well. so, that’s something we might have to test further and make sure that it’s ready for when we go into the field next year. Some work that I have done is actually looking at large impacts on Mars, so what happens if you take something like the Moon and throw it at Mars, uh, does the whole planet melt? Ah, Does it spew out a lot of material? But I also do a lot of work on extreme environments. For example, one of the projects that I am heavily involved with now is going to Antarctica and studying, uh, extreme conditions that we find there. Mars, is a cold and dry place — and Antarctica and the upper dry valleys, which is where we are — is the coldest, driest location that we know of on Earth. And Antarctica gives us a location where we can go, and really do all of that very careful analysis, and we can go to Mars, take just a few measurements and understand what’s happening. Here we have the middle of the day, the middle of the night. It goes back and forth. The temperature of the surface changes But it also effects what’s happening into the subsurface. This is one of my favorite problems because a lot of things are coming together to do this. We’ve left Instruments out in the field .. for years at a time so that we can really look at what the different environmental parameters or how does the light vary? How does the temperature vary? So right now having the science and the math background I have is certainly important — but I think on the personality side, what’s really important is being curious about what you see. Always asking questions and never stopping, and also self motivational aspect. That’s one aspect that is different from a lot of other professions where you have a lot of deadlines, you know exactly what you need to get done today. Exploring Mars, especially the human exploration of Mars requires everything, it requires the scientist, it requires the engineers, the people who come up with policy. The people who come up with the money. Everything that we have learned as humans over the last number of thousands of years has to come together for us to really be able to do human exploration on Mars. Maybe thats what really captured my imagination that it was everything coming together to go and explore this planet.

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