Friday, July 16, 2010

Getting the word out

[ Photo Credit: Flickr user Tanki (source: used under license ]

Today I canned my first pop science interview for (look for it next Monday, July 19!) with the good folks at the York University Observatory. I've never done anything quite like this before, with the possible exception of sitting in and offering a few comments on an interview that my PhD advisor and Phoenix Mission P.I., Peter Smith, had done with NPR (US National Public Radio). With luck, I picked up a trick or two from Peter, the consummate master of the science interview. So, hopefully I acquitted myself well, and didn't embarrass myself too badly.

Even if I did, it's still a useful process. As I've mentioned in this space before, we Scientists have an obligation to share our knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with the public and I hope that I get more opportunities to do just that.

Additionally, it's interesting to get some behind-the-scenes experience, just to see how these interviews are done. For instance, we ended up recording two interviews since we couldn't use the first take as the result of technical difficulties. What was fascinating is that each take of the interview was completely different, despite operating from the same sheet of questions. In the first (which will not air) we talked mainly about Astrobiology as well as the motivations and philosophy of doing space exploration/planetary science. The second version (which will air) was more of a discussion of the technical aspects of exploring the solar system.

It was a fun experience, and I thank the York University Observatory for the chance to participate. In particular, I'd like to thank my host Rob Berthiaume. Rob, a complete natural as a host, knows exactly how to put an interviewee at ease. You end up simply having a conversation - I think we could have continued talking for hours. Hopefully they'll have me back again. If they do, I'd especially love to be able to answer questions from listeners.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The next step

So, I can now officially announce that I have accepted a new job starting at the end of my current 12-month contract with York University. It's an NSERC Fellowship, under the Canadian Astrobiology Training Program and I'll be working at the University of Western Ontario with Dr. Gordon "Oz" Osinski. Oz and I knew each other, briefly, when I was a PhD student at Arizona and he was there working as a postdoc under Jay Melosh (now at Purdue). It's a 2-year fellowship and I'm really looking forward to starting! But before that happens, there is still much work to be done here at York. Hopefully that will include some publications and perhaps even a first conference since I started this blog, 13 months ago.

This fellowship caps off a successful couple of months for me, as I also recently took home a prize from the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) for my publication "Atmospheric Dynamics at the Phoenix Landing site, as seen by the Surface Stereo Imager."

I've never won anything like this before and it was a happy moment. A long-time friend and colleague on the Phoenix Mission told me that my smile said it all. (The complete list of winners at that banquet can be found here ).
The award I received is named after Roger Daly. It's an interesting coincidence that the biography highlights some of his early work in Newfoundland and Labrador, my home province. But beyond that, his is an interesting story and a testament to the twisting, turning path that led many of his era into careers in Science. I have to wonder whether this kind of a career path would be possible today.

So while the near future looks bright, I also have to begin looking past this upcoming fellowship. And there lie dragons...


As a footnote, a great little website operated by musician John Boswell ( has just recently put out a piece on my favourite planet, Mars which samples heavily from Robert Zubrin. While Zubrin has been criticized in the past, he is a tireless advocate for a rapid, near-term crewed mission to Mars. Two of his books, "The Case for Mars" and very especially "Entering Space" were significant influences on me as I first entered this field as an Aerospace Engineer and later as a Planetary Scientist.