– By Abigail Parker-
You are good enough to work on a Mars rover. This is the message that Nina Lanza ’97 gave the school during assembly on January 24. Lanza works on the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity Mars rover, which landed on Mars last August. During the assembly, Lanza briefed us on the objectives of the Mars Science Laboratory and showed us an example of the data from the instrument that she works on. Known as ChemCam, the instrument aims a laser at a target rock on Mars and analyzes its chemical composition based on the spectrum of the light emitted by the atoms in the sample when their electrons are excited by the laser. Each element emits light with different energy levels, so ChemCam is able to analyze which elements are in the rock it is testing based on the light captured by its camera. Some of the chemical signatures detected by ChemCam can attest to the presence of water on Mars, the investigation of which is a major goal of the Mars rovers.
During Lanza’s presentation, she spoke not only about ChemCam’s research but also about her experience working on the rover. She outlined the abnormal daily schedules that come from working in Mars sols rather than Earth days, told us about the process that goes into controlling the rover’s actions on Mars, and even explained the free ice cream policy that applied to the Mars scientists.
Lanza said that she had no expectation of working on anything like a Mars rover while at Winsor, but she emphasizes that getting to the level of science where she works is more about passion and hard work than innate scholastic brilliance. She entered into her chosen career because she loved learning about space, and gained her expertise through continued study and persistence in finding ways to be part of the team studying Mars.
Lanza’s interest in her area of study was sparked when she took Astronomy with Ms. Labieniec at Winsor. During this year’s Astronomy class, Lanza skyped in to share her experience as a planetary scientist with members of the Class of 2013. With this assembly, awareness of what Lanza is doing has now spread to the whole school, and we have all been exposed to her inspiring message that any of us can pursue our interests to work towards the kind of success that she is finding.