News and Updates



Sri Saripalli discusses field robotics innovations

Robots are becoming an essential and versatile tool for exploration under the sea, from the air and on other planets.

Arizona State University roboticist Sri Saripalli works on ways to advance technologies that will enable future robots to perform more complex tasks to aid astronauts and other explorers – especially in environments too harsh or dangerous for humans to venture.

In this video Saripalli describes a rover named RAVEN (Robotic Assist Vehicle for Extraterrestrial Navigation) developed by a group of ASU students as part of their senior-year “capstone” research and development project.

RAVEN took first place in the 2010 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) – one of the premier astronautic design competitions for university-level engineering students – co-sponsored by the National Institute of Aerospace and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The ASU students won over teams from 12 other major universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, the University of Michigan and Rutgers University.

RAVEN is the type of technology engineers are developing to provide astronaut-scientists with robotic field assistants that could perform such tasks as scouting terrain and examining the geology of other planets.

The three-wheel, 330-pound rover can traverse 20-degree slopes and travel at speeds up to 3 feet per second. It has the ability to carry experimental gear, samples of materials, and tools.

The big challenge in the field, Saripalli explains, is to develop robots that could go beyond performing only simple tasks that they must be programmed to do. The goal is to get them to interact with astronauts and others on a basic level of intelligence.

That will require some complex advances in defining and developing “intelligent” technologies and devising a form of language that would enable humans and robots to communicate clearly and reliably.

Saripalli is an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. SESE is also a collaborative partner of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.


Caption: Professor Sri Saripalli coaches undergraduate student Sam Jacobs on how to use the controls for RAVEN rover at Camp SESE.


(Joe Kullman)


Freshman year is an exciting time for Arizona State University students, but it can be overwhelming. ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration offered a special orientation program to help its newest members feel welcome and engaged in the mission of the school. Nearly 30 incoming freshmen and transfer students attended the three-day event over Labor Day weekend in the cool pines near Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.

During Camp SESE, the students learned about the exciting academic, extra-curricular, and research opportunities in the school. They hiked, navigated the rocky terrain with compasses and maps, drove robots, used telescopes to star-gaze, and engaged in team buildings exercises. All of which culminated in a unique bonding experience among the new students.

“Camp SESE recreates the sort of interactive environment and experience at the level of the School that have typically been the exclusive hallmark of small, elite liberal arts colleges – friendships and connections first established at this sort of camp can last a lifetime,” says Professor Kelin Whipple.

Whipple was instrumental in developing the concept for Camp SESE and doing much of the early heavy lifting to make it happen, but the camp was very much a community effort. Several SESE faculty and staff helped out, with the majority of the activities being overseen by upper-classmen mentors. Students connected with one another, but also with their upper division and graduate mentors, and with the faculty.

“It has been demonstrated that one key to college success is getting to know your professors outside the classroom,” says Kip Hodges, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “Camp SESE is a wonderful opportunity for freshmen to spend time with volunteer faculty and staff members in a fun, informal atmosphere.”

“Having an opportunity like this for the freshmen and transfers is really a good way to get everyone to know each other,” says Christian Ferm, a freshman majoring in Earth and Space Exploration. “The collaboration between the undergraduate and graduate students was a really good idea.”

“We anticipate the annual Camp SESE event to play a key role in galvanizing a sense of community, a sense of family, within SESE,” says Whipple. The experience benefits everyone involved. “It is inspiring to see such an amazing group of incoming students – bright, motivated, inquisitive, and ready to explore in every sense of the word – and to get to know some of their diverse stories and perspectives.”

View Camp SESE photos & videos on Facebook:

Album #1

Album #2



The Arizona State University team that oversees the imaging system on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has released the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 sites, more clearly showing the paths made when the astronauts explored these areas.

The higher resolution of these images is possible because of adjustments made to LRO’s elliptical orbit. On August 10 a special pair of stationkeeping maneuvers were performed in place of the standard maneuvers, lowering LRO from its usual altitude of 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) to an altitude that dipped as low as 21 kilometers (nearly 13 miles) as it passed over the Moon’s surface.

“The new low-altitude Narrow Angle Camera images sharpen our view of the Moon’s surface,” says Mark Robinson, the Principal Investigator for LROC and professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The LROC imaging system consists of two Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs) to provide high-resolution images, and a Wide Angle Camera (WAC) to provide 100-meter resolution images in seven color bands over a 57-km swath.

“A great example is the sharpness of the rover tracks at the Apollo 17 site,” Robinson says. “In previous images the rover tracks were visible, but now they are sharp parallel lines on the surface!”

The maneuvers were carefully designed so that the lowest altitudes occurred over some of the Apollo landing sites.

At the Apollo 17 site, the tracks laid down by the lunar rover are clearly visible, along with distinct trails left in the Moon’s thin soil when the astronauts exited the lunar modules and explored on foot. In the Apollo 17 image, the foot trails—including the last path made on the Moon by humans—are more easily distinguished from the dual tracks left by the lunar rover, which remains parked east of the lander.

At each site, trails also run to the west of the landers, where the astronauts placed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), providing the first insights into the Moon’s internal structure and first measurements of its surface pressure and the composition of its atmosphere.

One of the details that shows up is a bright L-shape in the Apollo 12 image marking the locations of cables running from ALSEP’s central station to two of its instruments. Though the cables are much too small to be resolved, they show up because the material they are made from reflects light very well and thus stand out against the dark lunar soil.

The spacecraft has remained in this orbit for 28 days, long enough for the Moon to completely rotate underneath, thus also allowing full coverage of the surface by LROC’s Wide Angle Camera. This low-orbit cycle ends today when the spacecraft will be returned to the 50-kilometer orbit.

These and other LROC images are available at:


Apollo 12 image caption:

The tracks made in 1969 by astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, the third and fourth humans to walk on the Moon, can be seen in this LRO image of the Apollo 12 site. The location of the descent stage for Apollo 12’s lunar module, Intrepid, also can be seen.

Conrad and Bean performed two Moon walks on this flat lava plain in the Oceanus Procellarum region of the Moon. In the first walk, they collected samples and chose the location for the lunar monitoring equipment known as the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP). The ALSEP sent scientific data about the Moon’s interior and surface environment back to Earth for more than seven years.

A surprising detail of the ALSEP is visible in the image: a bright L-shape marks the locations of cables running from ALSEP’s central station to two of its instruments. These instruments are probably (left) the Suprathermal Ion Detector Experiment, or SIDE, which studied positively charged particles near the Moon’s surface, and (right) the Lunar Surface Magnetometer, or LSM, which looked for variations in the Moon’s magnetic field over time; these two instruments had the longest cables running from the central station. Though the cables are much too small to be seen directly, they show up because the material they are made from reflects light very well.

In the second Moon walk, Conrad and Bean set out from the descent stage and looped around Head crater, visiting Bench crater and Sharp crater, then headed east and north to the landing site of Surveyor 3. There, the astronauts collected some hardware from the unmanned Surveyor spacecraft, which had landed two years earlier.

The two astronauts covered this entire area on foot, carrying all of their tools and equipment and more than 32 kilograms (roughly 60 pounds) of lunar samples.


Apollo 14 image caption:

The paths left by astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell on both Apollo 14 Moon walks are visible in this LRO image. (At the end of the second Moon walk, Shepard famously hit two golf balls.) The descent stage of the lunar module Antares, measuring about 5 meters across, is also visible.

Apollo 14 landed near Fra Mauro crater in February 1971. On the first Moon walk, the astronauts set up the lunar monitoring equipment known as the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) to the west of the landing site and collected just over 42 kilograms (about 92 pounds) of lunar samples. Luckily for them, they had a rickshaw-style cart called the modular equipment transporter, or MET, that they could use to carry equipment and samples.




Apollo 17 image caption:

The twists and turns of the last tracks left by humans on the Moon crisscross the surface in this LRO image of the Apollo 17 site. In the thin lunar soil, the trails made by astronauts on foot can be easily distinguished from the dual tracks left by the lunar roving vehicle, or LRV. Also seen in this image are the descent stage of the Challenger lunar module and the LRV, parked to the east.

The LRV gave the Apollo 17 astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, considerable mobility. As in previous Apollo missions, the astronauts set up the lunar monitoring equipment known as the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), the details of which varied from mission to mission. To the west of the landing site, the cross-shaped path that the astronauts made as they set up the geophones to monitor seismic activity can be seen.

To the east, more rover tracks can be seen. Cernan made these when he laid out the 35-meter antennas for the Surface Electrical Properties, or SEP, experiment. SEP, a separate investigation from ALSEP, characterized the electrical properties of the lunar soil.

Below the SEP experiment is where the astronauts parked the rover, in a prime spot to shoot video of the liftoff of the Challenger module.

Link to Apollo 17 liftoff video:


(Nikki Cassis)


Professor Paul Knauth leads yearly public rafting trip through Grand Canyon

Few are strangers to the famed grandeur of the Grand Canyon. If you haven’t seen it for yourself, you’ve heard about it: otherworldly panoramas of plateaus and basins, canyon walls stacked with streaks of dusty desert colors, soaring rock structures that shimmer gold when hit by the sun a certain way. But not everybody is aware of the story behind the rocks, of the fossils and of the millions of years of geologic history they hold. Professor Paul Knauth, ASU professor of geology, leads a yearly public rafting trip through the Grand Canyon to change that.

“The Grand Canyon is the Mecca for geology,” says Knauth. “It’s a place where, in eight days, you can take people through a cosmos. You can take them through the grand themes of geology. Scenically, it’s unsurpassed. Don’t ever get hooked on it, because it will take you back again and again in a compulsive way.”
Knauth speaks from experience. Since about 1990, he has organized and led 24 trips, introducing interested members of the community to the geology behind the canyon’s celebrated scenery. Each trip takes eight days, during which the group rides the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry, Ariz. to Whitmore Wash, a distance of 188 river miles, and camps along the river.

The history of these trips dates back to the early 1960s, when Everett Gibson, a graduate student in the meteorite center, organized the first trip. Troy Pewe, then the chairman of the geology department, decided to offer the trip every other year as part of a course titled “Geology of the Grand Canyon.” In about 1990, the trip evolved again. Knauth was in charge of running a required field camp for undergraduate geology students. To help offset the costs of these camps, he made the raft trip, along with excursions to areas like Death Valley and Yosemite, into public field trips with an additional fee that funded student scholarships.

After many successful years, new university regulations prevented Knauth from continuing the public field trips. Regardless, Knauth decided to continue offering the Grand Canyon raft trip as a way to build goodwill toward the geology department.

Though the trips are no longer fundraisers, they have retained their primary purpose of introducing people to the geologic features of the canyon. Spectacular scenery makes an excellent teaching tool and, because canyon walls are essentially cross-sections of the earth, they allow for a pretty comprehensive lesson.

“When you’re on the river, you can look up and see a view, and if that thing that you’re looking at right there was anywhere else in the United States, it’d be a national park. Just that view, right there,” explains Knauth. “But it’s also behind you, it’s to the left and right, and it goes on day after day as you float down the river. And it gets to you after a few days – you become euphoric. And it’s not just the scenery, but it’s the story that’s being told by the geology. You can feel the pulse of time, you can see the history of the earth.”

Knauth’s goal is to help the public experience the canyon as he experiences it. The trips take the form of tours, with Knauth acting as guide. Throughout the day, the group stops and discusses geologic features they encounter, but where they stop and what they see depends on the day’s conditions. “If it’s midafternoon and it’s a hundred and thirty seven thousand degrees, no one wants to go look at geology,” explains Knauth. Often, mornings and evenings are also devoted to talking about geology.

Next year’s trip will be held May 14- 21, 2012, and costs $2300. If interested, visit for more information.

Historically, the trips have drawn people of all ages and backgrounds. Last year, the youngest was a freshman from BYU and the oldest celebrated his 80th birthday on the river. Many make multiple trips, and some have signed up a total of 19 times. Knauth, for one, intends to lead the trip until he can no longer climb into a raft.

For Knauth, the last day of the trip alone is reason enough to return.

“The women have no make-up, the guys often haven’t shaved, everybody’s disheveled and kind of beat-up after being on the river for eight days, but the face of these people is something almost mystical. It’s a kind of glow, and it’s striking to me. It’s a very moving thing, the last day, to see these people and the canyon that has worked its magic on them.”

Credit: Mark Beeunas

(Victoria Miluch)


Philip R. Christensen, the principal investigator for numerous instruments of Mars exploration carried on NASA spacecraft, will receive the 2011 Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Award Oct. 13 at Arizona State University.

The award, established five years ago by ASU's BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, is given annually to a leading scientist in honor of his or her life and work. It is named for Shoemaker, who is known for pioneering research with his wife, Carolyn, in the field of asteroid and comet impacts.

As part of the honor of receiving the award, Christensen will deliver the annual Shoemaker Memorial Lecture co-sponsored by the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Christensen’s talk, titled "Unlocking the Mysteries of the Red Planet,” will be presented at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 13, in Neeb Hall on ASU's Tempe campus.

"Phil Christensen is the perfect example of the visionary scientist, who dreamed of exploring the cosmos in his early childhood," says Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and founding director of the BEYOND Center. "And he's no armchair dreamer. Christensen designs and builds innovative instruments and sends them into space. He has contributed ideas and hardware to nearly every NASA Mars mission since the early 1970s, and is one of the world's pre-eminent experts on the Red Planet."

Christensen is a Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE), an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He knew Shoemaker for many years.

"Gene Shoemaker was a giant in the field of planetary science, going back even before the Apollo Moon program of the 1960s," says Christensen. "He also had a great influence on me, though not directly, as he did little work specifically involving Mars. Instead, he was a strong mentor for Sue Kieffer, a Caltech grad student of his, and she in turn became a mentor for me."

As a graduate student in the late 1970s, Christensen worked on NASA's Viking project, which sent two orbiters and two non-roving landers to Mars. He earned a doctorate in geophysics and space physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and joined the ASU faculty in 1981.

Most of his research has involved the design and development of spaceborne infrared remote-sensing instruments. Christensen is the principal investigator for the Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument, and the Thermal Emission System (TES) instrument on Mars Global Surveyor. He is a co-investigator on the Mars Exploration Rover missions (Spirit and Opportunity), responsible for building and operating the Mini-TES mineral scouting instruments.

Since the mid-1990s he has also pursued using spacecraft observations to study environmental and urban development problems on Earth.

Christensen was awarded NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 2003 for his pioneering scientific observations of Mars in the infrared and won NASA's Public Service Medal in 2005. He was elected as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2004 and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2009.

"Phil Christensen's research is helping to unlock the mysteries of other worlds in our solar system by means that are highly complementary to laboratory studies of meteorites," says Meenakshi Wadhwa, professor of geology in SESE and director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies.

"Moreover," she says, "Phil's instrument on the Mars Exploration Rovers — Mini-TES — helped discover the first meteorites ever found on another world. So it's highly appropriate that we're honoring him with the Shoemaker Memorial Award this year when we're also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies."

The center is home to the world's largest university-based meteorite collection.

The Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Lecture is free and open to the public. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. More at 480-965-3240 or Online maps of ASU’s Tempe campus and parking structures at

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Center for Meteorite Studies will hold a symposium Oct. 21, on the topic of "Meteoritics and Cosmochemistry: Past, Present and Future." On the program for the symposium, Christensen will give a talk on how remote sensing and laboratory analyses complement each other in planetary studies.

Christensen is the fifth recipient of the ASU Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Award. Previous recipients are Steve Squyres, H. Jay Melosh, Walter Alvarez, and Harrison Hagan Schmitt.

The BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science is a pioneering international research center established in 2006 at ASU. This "cosmic think tank" is specifically dedicated to confronting the big questions raised by advances in fundamental science, and facilitating new research initiatives that transcend traditional subject categories.

Caption: Philip R. Christensen is a Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also is director of the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Photo by Tom Story/Arizona State University


(Carol Hughes, Robert Burnham)


It is summer but this group of students in Field Geology 2 in the rugged Mogollon Rim country were not on vacation

It’s 6:00 a.m. on a June morning and the sun is just starting to filter through the pines in Ponderosa Campground in the Tonto National Forest. In one loop of the campground, 15 undergraduate ASU geology students are already awake, eating breakfast and getting ready for a long day of hiking. It might be summer, but for these students, it’s no vacation. They are in Field Geology II (GLG452), a required course that teaches students field skills in the rugged Mogollon Rim country near Payson, AZ. Each summer, 15-30 geology majors, mostly juniors and seniors, spend three weeks here, camping and learning how to be field geologists.

“We get up at 5:30, the students are up by 6:00, breakfast from 6-6:30, and we’re off to the field by 6:45.” Tom Sharp, SESE professor of geology, is describing a typical day for the students in Field Geology II. He continues, “We come back from the field by 3:30, usually relax a little bit and have a snack, and then [the students] start working. We serve dinner at 6:00, have a meeting at 7:00, and then they work until 10:00 or 11:00.”

Field 2, as the class is known to faculty and students, has been part of the geology curriculum at ASU for 10 years. It is a three-week version of the previous field camp ASU ran for 30 years. Sharp has taught the class since 1998, and took over the position of main faculty in 2001. “We do a lot in three weeks,” he says. “We spend the first four days introducing the rocks in the area, and then we set [the students] free. Students hike in pairs, they carry radios, and they work independently.” Sharp divides the study area up like a checkerboard. Each square on that imaginary board is a sector for students to map. At the end of Field 2, each student turns in geologic maps, cross-sections, and written reports for four adjacent sectors.

“The sectors are large enough that you can spend all day in a sector with half the class,” remarks Sharp, “And not see anyone.”

Field 2 is an immersion experience in geologic fieldwork that many undergraduate students don’t get in a geology degree at other colleges and universities. It isn’t the first time SESE geology majors do fieldwork: Field 1 (GLG451), a spring semester class that includes three weekend field trips and a spring break trip known as mini camp, is a pre-requisite for Field 2, and SESE offers a variety of other field-based classes. Hands-on field training is integral to SESE’s geology curriculum, with many of the core classes including fieldtrips and field-based lab activities. “Geology is fundamentally a field-based science,” says Professor Steve Semken, who also serves as faculty for Field 2. “Field-geology education is an indispensable aspect of the preparation of a fully functional professional or academic geologist.”

Brett Carr, a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant for Field 2 this summer, agrees. “Doing geology in the field is what makes geology relevant to the rest of our lives. Being able to identify limestone is good, but being able to put it in the context of where it was found tells you so much about how the rock formed, how it got to the surface, and its influence on the local and regional topography and geologic hazards.”

For Field 2 students, “Proficient mapping skills are a valuable take away,” says Scott Robinson, another Ph.D. student and teaching assistant. More importantly, students learn “an appreciation for the process of designing and carrying out independent field work aimed at answering focused questions. […] Their experience is relevant to any number of field disciplines.”

Geologists can carry a literally staggering array of tools into the field: topographical maps on which to locate themselves and mark geologic contacts and structures; map cases and clip boards; field journals; small radios or GPS units; magnifying lenses for mineral identification; geologic hammers (a normal hammer on one side of the head, a wickedly sharp pick on the other); pocket transit compasses, generally known as “Bruntons” after the preeminent manufacturer, with which to map geologic structures. Budding geologists learn to use these tools in classes like Field 1 and 2; learning how to carry them all while leaving one’s hands free for scrambling in steep terrain is generally an individual and life-long endeavor.

“Students start [reading topo maps and using Bruntons] in structural geology, and we continue that in Field 1,” says Sharp. “Field 1 is where you really learn how to locate yourself and take […] measurements.” In Field 1, students work in a desert environment, where locating themselves on a topographical map is a fairly easy task. “When we get up into […] the Rim Country,” Sharp continues, “everything is very forested, and you have to be able to figure out where you are, where you’re going, with trees. So it’s a bit more difficult.”

Field skills are only part of what students learn at Field 2. For Leah Pettis, a senior geology major, the most valuable lesson at Field 2 was time management. “Never before have I had a class where a paper was assigned and then due 2-3 days later, along with a drafted map, cross section, figures, and field notes,” she says.

Sharp agrees that time management is one of the most important lessons learned at Field 2, but he thinks students gain something even more important from the experience: confidence in their own abilities. “One of my favorite things is when you get a student up there who may not be the strongest [in the classroom], but they really catch on and get excited about it and do very well,” he says. “I really try to boost the confidence of the students, because with a little push, people who may be struggling can do very well. My goal is that all the students will come back more confident as field geologists.”

Michelle Aigner, a junior geology major, agrees. Field 2 allows students to combine everything they’ve learned in classes and apply it in the field, she says. “By the end [of the class],” Aigner continues, “the experience gave me confidence and an understanding of geology.”

“Geologists like to say that the best geologists are those who have seen the most rocks,” says Semken, “And Field 2 students see and interpret plenty of rocks!” They also gain an in-depth understanding of the local and regional geology, learn time management, hone their observation and critical thinking skills, and spend nine hours every day hiking through difficult, exceptionally beautiful terrain.

The Payson area, where the course is based, is undoubtedly one of the most scenic parts of the state. “We’re just below the Mogollon Rim, so we’re between ~5500-6500 ft [of elevation], and it’s in Ponderosa forest and juniper-piñon forest. It’s beautiful country,” says Sharp. “It’s very rugged, and some of the sectors involve very difficult hiking.”

“But it’s so beautiful you just can’t believe it.”

(Alice Letcher)


Most of you in SESE know that ASU/SESE is the EarthScope National Office. For those of you who don't know what EarthScope does, or want to know more, come and find out by connecting with EarthScope online. EarthScope is now live on Facebook and Twitter (@EarthScopeInfo). Friend or follow EarthScope today!


Photo: The EarthScope National Office @ ASU staff. Counterclockwise from bottom left: Director Ramon Arrowsmith, E&O Coordinator Wendy Taylor, Ed Garnero, Deputy Director Steve Semken, and Matt Fouch.


NASA's choice of a landing site in Gale Crater is "a geomorphologist's dream," says Phililp Christensen, Regents' professor of geological science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Tempe campus. Quoted in a report published in the scientific journal Nature (June 27, 2011), Christensen adds that the Gale site has lots of mineralogical interest to keep the rover and its science team busy.

The choice of a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, was announced June 22 by the space agency. The search for a site has engaged NASA and the Mars science community through five workshops held over five years.

At one point, the candidate list held 60 potential landing sites. These were steadily winnowed to four (Eberswalde delta, Gale Crater, Holden Crater, and Mawrth Vallis), then to two (Eberswalde and Gale).

Gale features a 16,000-foot-high stack of sedments, with its lowest layers showing signs of alteration by water. Curiosity's mission is to hunt for rocks and sediments that could have once been habitable for any potential Martian organisms.

While the science team does not expect Curiosity to drive it all the way to the top of the mountain, the summit makes a tempting target should the rover exceed its designed two-year mission.

Says Christensen, "If you started at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you wouldn't stop a third of the way up."


(Robert Burnham)


In May, Arizona State University was selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the new host university for the EarthScope National Office. The EarthScope program centers on exploration and discovery of the 4-D structure and evolution of the North American continent, but also encompasses studies of Earth structure and dynamics throughout the planet. It is the largest science project on the planet, recording data over 3.8 million square miles.

Earlier this month, Popular Science published the story “Big Science: The Universe's Ten Most Epic Projects” that highlights the ten most awe-inspiring science projects. Ranging from the world's largest undersea observatory to the "ultimate microscope" to a Jupiter orbiter on a suicide mission, all those that made the list are massive – and important to improving our view of the complex world around us, and the vast universe beyond. EarthScope made the list. Actually, it did better than just making the list. It was selected as the number one most epic science project.

For their rankings, Popular Science took into account four objective factors: the construction costs, operating budget, the size of the staff and the physical size of the project itself. Three subjective factors were also added in: the project’s scientific utility, its utility to the average person (“what will it do for me”) and the “wow” factor. Click here to view the gallery of the ten craziest, most ambitious, and most amazing big science projects around.

All the projects cited are epic, and for the EarthScope team, it is an honor to be included in that list.

Landing a spot on Popular Science's Big Science list served as reminder to look back and recognize the School of Earth and Space Exploration participation in several other monumental projects. Over the next few days, you can send in your suggestions for projects that should be considered for SESE’s “Top 10 Epic Projects” list. Please send your suggestions to Nikki Cassis either via email or on Facebook. Check back early next week to view SESE’s “big science” list.


Amanda Clarke, a volcanology professor at ASU, recently received the 2011 Wager Medal from the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) July 4 in Melbourne, Australia.

The award honors the memory Professor Lawrence Rickard Wager of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, who was born in 1904 and died in 1965. Professor Wager is best known for the discovery of the Skaergaard layered intrusion and the first detailed structural, mineralogical and petrological study of such intrusions. The medal is given every two years to one scientist under the age of 43 who has made outstanding contributions to the study of volcanology, particularly in the eight-year period prior to the award.

Clarke’s career didn’t begin with volcanoes, but instead with airplanes. After earning degrees in both aerospace engineering and philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, she worked as an intern at The Boeing Company. During that internship she learned about the hazards of volcanic ash to turbofan engines, from the manufacturing and pilot-training points of view.

“Without that fascinating series of Boeing in-house lectures (prompted by the Redoubt-KLM incident), I may never have become a volcanologist,” recalls Clarke, a faculty member in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “My changing interests from engineering to natural science ultimately led to the transformative opportunity to study the social aspects of volcanic hazards in the Philippines, under the auspices of The Fulbright Program.”

During her year in the Philippines, Clarke had the opportunity to observe and appreciate first-hand the impact of volcanic processes on the densely-populated emerging nations of Southeast Asia. Following this, she started graduate school at Penn State University, studying under Barry Voight. In her Ph.D. investigations she was the first to tackle the complex physics of highly unsteady explosive volcanic eruptions. This groundbreaking work was published in Nature, and has strongly influenced the current understanding of vulcanian eruptions.

As a student under Voight, she had the opportunity to work on the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat.

“The time I spent on Montserrat allowed me to observe active volcanic processes, study deposits and dome morphology, and appreciate the value of real-time monitoring, especially deformation studies, in understanding detailed volcanic processes and predicting when activity might suddenly become dangerous,” said Clarke.

The data produced by the collective efforts on Montserrat led her to an ongoing collaboration with a couple of pioneers in modeling explosive volcanic processes, a collaboration that ultimately resulted in several studies comparing complex models of physical volcanic processes to a well-constrained natural system. It was this integrated approach of comparing model results to field observations that led her to the Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Bristol, where she learned another approach to understanding volcanoes – studying the natural system via simplified, yet highly-constrained analogue experiments.

These combined experiences allowed her to set up her own laboratories and research group at Arizona State University.

“Arizona State has allowed me the freedom and given me the resources to continue this work in my own way,” says Clarke. “I feel ridiculously lucky to work in such an exciting field. It’s really hard to believe we get to study complex natural systems which continually present us with interesting pure science questions as well as real-world, socially-relevant problems.”

According to Barry Voight of Penn State University, who prepared the citation for the award and was one of the nominating members, “The Wager Medal has had a noteworthy track record of identifying the foremost talents in volcanology at a comparatively early stage in their careers. Amanda Clarke, an extraordinary young scientist of enormous breadth and ability, and a person of high character besides, is extremely deserving of this award” adding, “We can expect great things from her in the future.”


(Nikki Cassis)