Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dr. Jason Barnes (Conversations at the DPS, Profile 1)


Dr. Jason Barnes - never hesitating to find the necessary vantage point for his work. Photographed by Brian Jackson near Death Valley, California in 2006.

Tomorrow evening at 8PM EDT, the first interview in our six-part series "Conversations at the DPS" will run over on Astronomy.fm. This first edition features Dr. Jason Barnes, currently an Assistant Prof at the University of Idaho. Jason is an old friend of mine from my earliest graduate school days. He was a few years ahead of me in the program, but stuck around for two years after his PhD doing a postdoc with Bob Brown on the VIMS Instrument. His PhD thesis was entitled "Characterizing transiting extrasolar giant planets: On companions, rings, and love handles." However, his postdoc was a complete 180° pivot, in which he began the planetary surfaces work on the surface of Titan which he continues to this day. This demonstrates the kind of researcher that a jack-of-all trades planetary science program is able to produce; a very useful kind of versatility.

Since he left LPL/UA, Jason has kept busy. He spent two years on an NPP (NASA Postdoctoal Program) at the NASA Ames Research facility near Mountain View, CA (located between San Francisco and San Jose) prior to begining his appointment at Idaho. All the while, he maintained his affiliation with the VIMS instrument in particular and the Cassini mission in general. Already, he has begun to look out beyond the current exploration of Titan's surface (currently due to wind down with Casssini by 2018). He is the principal investigator on the AVIATR mission which seeks to place a nuclear-powered UAV in Titan's atmosphere - a daring proposal. But he hasn't abandoned extrasolar planets entirely, publishing work on this topic as recently as last year (2009).

One aspect of his work is something I really appreciate: bringing novel techniques to bear on planetary mission data to wring every last piece of information out of a few bits. I really enjoyed his DPS talk on constraining wave heights on Titan based on nothing other then the width of a single specular glint over a couple of pixels in just a few frames of VIMS imagery. This is an area that I enjoy as well (check out my most recent paper on the SSI for an example, and I hope to have another in press in the near future!) and it's good to see other people breaking outside of a single research technique to attempt these analyses.

Jason's interview was a joy to do: it didn't really feel like a formal interview, but was more like the many chats we would have around the campfire on field trips. Those were some of the high points in my graduate career, and I hope you enjoy listening to the interview as much as I enjoyed speaking with Jason.

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