Getting ready to ride

I’m headed to California on Wednesday. In preparation I’ve done some maintenance on the motorcycle. I’ve replaced changed the oil, spark plugs, and air filter. I replaced the rear brake pads and had a new chain installed. One day I’ll teach myself how to do that. The tires are good and should get me there and back with some extra. One worry is the seat, which has cracked in places, leaving the potential for a wet butt if it gets rained on, but I’ll likely be wearing rain pants in that eventuality.  In doing all this maintenance, I learned that one of my allen wrenches was missing, a very important one, so I’ve replaced that and also picked up a new spark plug wrench. The old one lost its rubber and was only half effective.

Now that the bike is ready, I’ll start packing for the trip. It’s a little awkward because I have to prepare for snow and cold weather until I get past Colorado. Then it’s Mojave Desert where they’re already hitting 90°. The return trip in June won’t be as cool!

The riding part of this trip is for personal pleasure, but the trip itself is for work. I’ll be at JPL hopefully learning how to model ice sheets. The goal is to extend my skill set and answer some fundamental science questions at the same time. If it works out, I won’t be just a Mars ice + radar person. I’ll be able to answer questions on other planet too 🙂

Now if it would just stop snowing….

Big Changes

Some big things are happening around here. The biggest is that my job and affiliation are going to change soon. In the next couple of months I’ll transition to the Planetary Science Institute. The move is part of my boss’s plan. Some of it is sad. I like where I work now and all of the people with whom I work. It’s been a great environment for learning new things and starting collaborations. After the transition it will be the two of us, at least at first.  I’ll still be able to come back to Southwest, but my office won’t be mine, and I’ll be a visitor.

This is happening very quickly, mostly because I have a lot of travel coming up. So I have to pack up my office very soon and store things at home. The travel is good though. I’ll be at JPL for 4 weeks learning about ice sheet modeling. This will hopefully prepare me for papers and proposals related to ice sheets. Before and after JPL I’ll be in Baltimore and then Rome. I’m gone more than 6 weeks out of the next 7! Of course this makes my transition more stressful. Wish me luck!

First Oil Painting

I made some art. This is new to me, at least since freshman year of high school. It took about a month, most of that drying time, and the painting ended up better and different than I expected. Mars was the only planet that didn’t need to be redone 🙂

The lighting in my office is bad, and there is some glare, which hides detail. Still, it’s great to be able to share! Click to enlarge.

Some really cool things are happening on Mars!

Some really ground breaking things are happening with Curiosity!

This week they are driving through a dune field – the first time that this has ever happened off of Earth. It’s huge for the planetary dunes community because so many questions can be answered by just a few good observations here. 1) what is the size and composition of the material that comprises the dunes? 2) what is the actual wind speed threshold for saltation (we can model it but don’t know for sure in this atmosphere), 3) how active are the dunes, and when are they most active during the day.

Like I said before, we have only been able to model these problems until now. Breakthroughs abound!

Some cool but raw images. Remember that the sand is dark black on Mars.

Looking at the dune slipface

looking at the bottom of the dune


Really amazing!


We’ve been dreaming about shots like this for years now

Can’t wait to drive here

And Here

and here
This also means that we’re actually getting close to the mountain.

Not much of an update

I don’t have a lot to update here from mid-October. Mostly I’ve been working, although I did travel to UCLA for an invited talk and to Austin to visit my family. I have a new niece named Josephine, and it was my dad’s birthday, so two great excuses to head home.

Right now I’m waiting to hear back from a paper I submitted, trying to get into gear to write and submit two more grant proposals, along with the MRO extended mission proposal that my boss is working on and asking for my help. I have two papers in prep that need to be finished, and the holidays are upon us. Also, I’ve applied for six jobs recently with nearly double that to go. Wish me luck in getting interviews.

All in all, things are going well and busy, so I haven’t done much outside of work. The weather has been iffy for motorcycle or mountain bike riding, but I did get a long snow shoe in this weekend with my friends. We were 6 in all, and it was the first time I filled my car with that many people. The car did great, which makes me happy. Of course snow shoeing is always a good time.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and I expect to entertain a few friends and my mom. She arrives tomorrow. It’s her first visit to Colorado since I moved here (actually since she was pregnant with me), so I’m looking forward to showing her around.

These last two weeks have been super busy!

There are times in your life when everything comes together at once, including tons of work. Recently I experienced one of those times.

Since the last post, when I submitted a research grant proposal to NASA (wish me luck!), I’ve served on a NASA review panel, submitted a spacecraft mission proposal to NASA (wish me luck!), submitted applications for employment (wish me luck!), submitted a manuscript to be published (wish me luck!), and am now reviewing another manuscript.

By far the busiest part was writing the grant proposal. Having started that in July, I spent a lot of time putting it together, especially in the final week. After that was the review panel, for which I had a LOT of reading to do and then a week of meetings. Finally last weekend I had some time to relax, so I started applying to faculty positions (again, wish me luck!) and submitted a paper I’ve been working on for many months. Usually I try to spread these things out. It’s already a lot of work, and keeping everything straight in my head takes more concentration than I had for a few moments.

Only once before have so many things happened at the same time. It was March 2010, and everything took place within 9 days. First I took and passed my PhD qualifying exam (with luck), submitted my edits to the journal Nature (with luck), successfully presented my research at a major conference, found out that I had received an award from the American Geophysical Union Conference the previous December, and one more thing I’ve forgotten since then. At the time my committee members told me to cherish the moment because so many things usually don’t happen at once…..

I can finally breathe, so I’m writing to the entire internet about how busy I’ve been 🙂

I just asked NASA for a quarter million dollars

Part of becoming a scientist is learning how to ask for money. Even the best ideas need time and facilities to do the work, plus the scientist has to eat. My position at SwRI is one of “soft money,” which means that my position is soft unless I can bring in funding. Currently I’m paid as a post-doc, 100% covered by my bosses, but that is supposed to change before I can be promoted and if I want to stay more than a couple years.

The art of asking for money takes a lot of refinement. First you need a good idea. Second, NASA has to be soliciting good ideas. You write a proposal document that fulfills their requirements for ideas, technical management, budget, and formatting. You attach your CV and supporting documents of subcontracts, proof read five times, and submit the document to NASA.

Now the waiting begins. The program to which I submitted is the Mars Data Analysis Program or MDAP. Everyone who submits an MDAP does so on the same day, and we wait until a committee or review panel grades our proposals and then ranks them by  strengths and alignment with NASA’s priorities.

In case you’re wondering, we’ve discovered layered deposits indicative of ancient sedimentation near the rim of Valles Marineris, the continental scale rift valley that could fit the Grand Canyon inside of it end to end hundreds of times over. My proposal aims to characterize these deposits with a suite of instruments and then compare them to other layers seen on Mars.

Why does this cost $260,000 you might ask? Well, only the smallest portion of that goes to my paycheck. The cost is divided over 3 years, and I share that with two of my co-investigators. Each investigator has to pay their institution overhead money, or money that keeps the organization running, pays the light and rent bills, pays our administrators, copiers, publication fees, vacation, and health benefits. Plus more. So, SwRI takes a large sum before any money gets to me. My co-investigators also pay significant quantities to their institutions. Out of the $260,000, I’ll get paid $39,000 spread out over three years, before taxes – if the grant is funded.

Which grants get funded? I’ll find out soon. As I mentioned, NASA puts together review panels to grade and rank the proposals it receives. If yours gets a good score and beats out 80-90% of the other submissions, then you get funded. I’ve never served on a review panel before, but I will get the opportunity soon. Unfortunately, I can’t say more because I’ve agreed to keep it confidential as this effects many people and their livelihoods. I will be able to talk about the experience, however, after it is done.

This is not a post

It is recognition of how seldom I post here.


Life is busy now. Work is good. I bought a mountain bike and use it often. The weather is changing fast and not in a good way.

I’m teaching again, but this time it’s physics labs. In general I like the experience, and working with students is very positive for me. The course is really basic, so most of what I learn is how to be a better teacher.

Looking forward to a camping trip next weekend in Aspen. Should have good fall colors like last year 🙂