Hello! I’m Nina Lanza and I am a geology graduate student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM, USA. When I am not doing research I enjoy singing early music and mountaineering. When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be an astronomer because those were the people who studied space. My undergraduate degree is in astronomy and I think that was a great way to prepare myself for my Mars work. It has allowed me to understand the larger context of the universe, as well as given me a good basis in physics.
My interest in Mars was sparked by the images of the martian surface from the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission. For the first time, I could imagine myself standing on Mars, and from that time on I was hooked! I believe Mars is important to study because it is both very similar to and very different from Earth. Both planets are made of essentially the same materials, and have spent the majority of their time in existence in the same place in the universe. Why, then, are these planets so different now? Were they always so different? By studying the evolution of Mars, we can better understand how the Earth came to be as it is today, and how it may change in the future.
My role with the instrument has been to help prepare ChemCam to take data on the martian surface. To do this, I measure rocks from Earth with a laboratory LIBS instrument, placing the rocks in a chamber filled with a martian atmosphere. The rocks I choose are either similar to ones already seen on Mars or ones we hope to find on this next mission (MSL). I would be very excited if we found some organic materials! It would also be great to find carbonate minerals such as calcite or siderite, since their existence on Mars has been debated for years. This family of minerals generally only forms in the presence of liquid water.