What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
I have no typical day. I work in a laboratory, an office, and sometimes in the field. In the field, we collect samples of rocks and soils from places with geology similar to that found on Mars and other planets. In the laboratory, we make geochemical measurements of these samples to understand how they were formed. The past two summers, I spent a month doing field work at Svalbard, an island above the Arctic Circle which belongs to Norway. We like to focus on extreme environments to determine the range of conditions at which life may be present because Mars has such an extreme environment.
I also use mass spectrometers to analyze extraterrestrial samples such as meteorites. Our team has found the same organic molecules that make up the basic building blocks of life in meteorites, which was a very exciting discovery.
The other part of what I do is to help develop and test customized instruments that will be used on Mars. Our group has an instrument on the next Mars Rover. It is called SAM, which stands for Sample Analysis at Mars, and will look for organic molecules on Mars.
Teamwork and collaboration are crucial. One of the most enjoyable parts about my work is being part of a team. Everybody is an expert on something different and so everyone contributes.
|Photo of Jennifer Stern in her lab. Credit: NASA|
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Traveling to Svalbard to study Mars-like rocks.
Photo courtesy: J. Stern
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
Yes, I am a professional belly dancer. I have been dancing for 11 years and have performed in Baltimore, Alexandria, Washington, D.C., Orlando, and San Francisco. Like any dancing, belly dancing is a way to express the emotion of the music. I also just started taking trapeze lessons from the Trapeze School of New York, which has an extension in Washington, D.C. It really feels like flying and it is addictive because it is so exhilarating.
Is there someplace in the world that you want to visit or someplace you have been and want to go back?