CPSX Spotlight: PhD Candidate Marianne Mader

Next up in the CPSX spotlight is PhD Candidate Marianne Mader. Marianne is taking part in this year’s ANSMET expedition, and you can follow her experience on the CPSX Antarctic Dispatches blog!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an explorer at heart and enjoy taking ‘the backroads’! I’ve always resonated with Robert Frost’s sentiments “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Each of my degrees is from a different university and I’ve spent time working for academia, industry, and government, and travelling the world between degrees. I received my BSc Honours in Geology from the University of New Brunswick and an MSc in Geology from Memorial University, Newfoundland. Both of my thesis projects focused on field mapping and geochemistry of Archean greenstone belts on Earth. I spent 4 entire summers, camping and clambering about northern Ontario and southwest Greenland with a team of 2-4 geologists. I was essentially part of detective team trying to figure out how these rocks formed over 3 billion years ago!(I think I have a good story – ask me sometime!).

Near the end of my MSc, I serendipitously learned about a multinational, interdisciplinary, professional Masters program that focused on Space Exploration – I was hooked. However, at the time I was seeking international, professional work. I applied and was selected for a position offered by the Department of Foreign Affair and InternationalTrade (DFAIT), Canadian government to work for an Environmental consulting company in Bangkok, Thailand. This was an incredibly rewarding experience!  After my placement in Thailand, I moved to France to pursue a MSc in Space Studies at the International Space University. This was a turning point in my life and career. I did an internship at the Canadian Space Agency and conducted field work in the Yukon, Devon Island, and Axel Heiberg Island, Canadian High Arctic.

I became determined to help plan and improve future space missions. Being pragmatic in nature, I wanted to test ideas here on Earth and the concept of Analogue Missions (essentially practice-runs or simulations of some aspect of planetary missions on Earth) was just developing in Canada. This experience brought me back to the world of academia.  I was able to get involved in this research in the early stages and have been fortunate to have participated in 5 different analogue missions, in Labrador, British Columbia, and Arizona.

Exploring the Mistastin Lake impact structure.

2. What is your current research?

I am currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration, working with Dr. Gordon Osinski, studying impact cratering and lunar exploration strategies. Specifically, I’m using the Mistastin Lake impact structure as a terrestrial analogue site for lunar planetary science and exploration.The ultimate goal for my research is to help maximize scientific return for future geological investigations of the lunar surface.

Scientific return is a key driver for the development and planning of future lunar surface missions. Analogue research on Earth helps to develop, quantify and modify operational concepts that balance operational rigor and scientific flexibility to maximize scientific return. Two key analogue activities conducted on Earth that can help increase the scientific return of future lunar missions are: comparative planetology (i.e., study of geological sites on Earth that are similar to the Moon) and analogue missions, which are field deployments that essentially simulate technical, operational, and scientific aspects of an entire lunar mission or some part of the mission at a scientifically relevant site on Earth.

How to maximize scientific return is a critical question when planning future lunar missions. Maximizing strategies addressed in this project include improving our understanding of where and what samples to collect from impact craters and how to effectively measure the scientific return of analogue missions. The primary goals of this project are thus two-fold:

1) Use the Mistastin Lake impact structure as a comparative planetology analogue site for lunar geological studies of impact craters. Ultimately, an understanding of distribution and formation processes of impact melt in ejecta deposits generated from similar crystalline target rocks as the lunar highlands will help in understanding where to look for impact melt on the Moon.

2) Use the results from analogue missions conducted at this site to create effective evaluation plans and measurement tools for robotic and human lunar planetary analogue missions. Analogue missions that integrate scientific, technological, and operational activities are still in their infancy, with missions across the globe all happening within the past 5-10 years. Presently without standardized evaluation plans and methods it is difficult to measure scientific return and compare results across analogue missions.

3. What first inspired you to study geology and planetary science?

In hindsight, I can recognize my transition into geology and eventually planetary science as an extension of my love for exploration: exploring the outdoors and our ultimately our place in the universe.

When I was young, I did not have a specific career in mind. After high school I choose to study science to keep my options open. Growing up I spent many summers camping with my family and exploring North America. After second year of my undergraduate degree I transferred from biology, in which I had been focussing on genetics, to geology so that I could work outside more. I spent the following 4 summers conducting geological field work in remote areas – I loved these experiences, but was still looking for something ‘more’.

Attending the Masters program at the International Space University (ISU) opened my eyes to the space industry and the possibilities of working within a field that I had found inspiring since childhood. Being of the ‘Star Trek’ era growing up, I had always loved space exploration but had never considered it as a career option. Within the first week of the ISU program I had attended lectures given by astronauts, company CEO’s, and researchers. I remember one particular class where I had a clear ‘Eureka’ moment, and I knew that this was the field I wanted to work in!

4. What attracted you to Western & CPSX?


The opportunity to work on planetary analogue missions as part of my core research, to conduct research at an amazing lunar analogue site – an impact crater in Labrador; and the opportunity to collaborate with the largest space company in Canada (MDA), the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, and an amazing team of researchers at Western University.

I want to work in the Canadian space industry when I complete my PhD. Joining CPSX has allowed me to work at the intersection of academia, government, and industry. CPSX is a unique environment that encourages cross-discipline learning and collaboration. I am incredibly thankful to be part of this centre.

5. What advice would you give to a student wanting to pursue planetary science as a career?

That’s a good question. Everyone’s path is so unique, and there’s no one ‘right’ way. I tend to be in the ‘it’s about the journey not the destination’ camp. Try to figure out what aspects about a particular field attract you to it – is it working in teams, a burning question (finding out if there is or was life on Mars), working on data from another planet? If you pursue graduate studies, be sure to incorporate at least some of these aspects into your project. Passion is the key ingredient for research. It motivates you to do your work (even when you’re ‘stuck’) and it’s contagious – others will share in the excitement of your findings – it’s a positive feedback loop!

Also, take the time to inspire others (again by sharing your passion). I help out with the outreach program at CPSX, and it’s incredibly rewarding. I genuinely feel that as scientists, it’s our duty and responsibility to share our work with the public, after all much of our funding comes from government grants and scholarships. When your local museum or astronomy society asks for someone to speak – say YES!

6. What are some challenges and rewards of your research?

I’ve heard people describe doing a PhD as a marathon, not a sprint. This implies clear start, a clear course, and end location. I wish it was that simple. There can be many false starts and even some dead-ends. It can sometimes be difficult to know ‘how much is enough’ – there is always more to learn and with every question answered 10 more appear. Ensuring that your piece of the puzzle doesn’t need to turn into an ‘Iron Man’ is certainly a challenge!

The reward for me is contributing to the bigger picture, working in a field that I find inspiring, collaborating with amazing teams, and exploring unique areas on Earth. I don’t know any planetary scientists who are ‘in it for the money’; however, I think the rewards I have received are invaluable.

Marianne achieving one of her dreams - searching for meteorites in Antarctica!

7. What’s next after you complete your degree?

In the short term I am considering post-doctoral opportunities that involve space industry collaborations. In the long term I would like to consult or work within industry or government, all with my ultimate goal in mind – to help plan space missions (and yes, I would love to go to space someday).

8. What do you do for fun?

Travel! I try to make the most of every travel opportunity, and learn about the local culture and environment. This term I’m travelling to my dream destination – Antarctica!!! From December to January, I’ll be hunting for meteorites as part of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) program. This program is run by Case Western University and funded by the National Science Foundation. You can follow posts from the entire team on the ANSMET website and I will be writing for the CPSX blog as well.

Marianne at the London Children's Museum.

I also love being involved in science and space outreach. I spend a lot of my ‘free’ time helping with space outreach and awareness organizations – I’m a Canadian rep for the Global Yuri’s Night Executive team, Central rep for the Alumni of ISU, and co-organized Canada’s first SpaceUp unconference! I am also the co-founder of MakerKids, a non-profit workspace for kids to create whatever they imagine!

Spinning Fire!

Other hobbies include rowing, rock climbing, poi (fire spinning) and crafting, which admittedly have mostly been on the backburner for a few years, but I suspect an end to their hiatus when I graduate!

Thank you, Marianne!

The CPSX Spotlight features interviews with CPSX faculty, research scientists, post-docs, and graduate students.

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