Áine O’Brien Wins 2019 WeMartians Travel Grant

February 14, 2019

We are pleased to announce the winner of the 2019 WeMartians Travel Grant is Áine O’Brien from the University of Glasgow, UK.

Mars, Meteorites, and Life

O’Brien is a PhD student looking for complex organic matter in Martian meteorites. Her work using electron microscopy and mass spectroscopy seeks to find organic carbon inside the meteorites and determine if it was native to Mars or if it came from another place. Carbon can be a key ingredient for the creation of amino acids and potentially life. Therefore, it’s of high importance to understand it as best we can! Her work will also help inform the upcoming instruments on board both NASA’s Mars2020 rover and ESA’s Rosalind Franklin Rover.

She’ll be presenting her work in an oral presentation as part of an astrobiology session of the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March. You can read her abstract, The Effect of Shock and Raman Laser Irradiation on the Maturity of Organics in Martian Meteorites, here. She is also presenting a poster on diversity of student space programs in the UK.

Outreach and Funding

O’Brien is committed to outreach, volunteering and diversity initiatives. She’s a former physics teacher and a STEM ambassador, running science activity days at schools across the UK since 2011. She has delivered talks at the Glasgow Science Centre Planetarium and organized events for Pint of Science. She is secretary of the UKSEDS organization (UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space). There, she helps manage various initiatives including SpaceCareers.uk and the Diversity in Space Careers event. She also serves on her university’s Athena SWAN committee. She organizes career mentoring events that advance the careers of women in STEM and make the department more inclusive.

As an attendee arriving from out of country, O’Brien’s travel costs for LPSC are non-trivial. As a PhD student, she has a small stipend to help pay for lab costs and travel. However, her work has advanced to a point where the current lab equipment is no longer sufficient. Her next step is to extract carbon from tiny meteorite samples without spoiling the samples with any Earth contaminants. Thus, the lab has absorbed these funds for the purchase of ultra-clean hydrogen pyrolysis equipment. This has left her without travel funds at a critical part of her PhD research. We hope that the WeMartians Travel Grant will bridge that funding gap and ensure this important research is presented in Houston!

Final Grant Amount

Thanks to the generous support of the WeMartians patrons and everyone who purchased our Planetary T-Shirt, the grant amounted to a total of $800 USD. The shirts will remain available for sale, with all proceeds going to next year’s grant.

We’d like to thank everyone who applied for the grant. It was a difficult decision to choose one winner among a tremendous field of applicants. Nonetheless, we are ecstatic to present Áine O’Brien with this award. Look forward to more about her and her work on the podcast soon!

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