Three years later, we collided during a University of Iowa orientation for honors students. She was making trash can volcanoes with science-track students and measuring the trajectories of different projectiles launched from the cans--tennis balls and ping pong balls among others.
She and I recently connected to talk about her research in Iceland. The research is NASA-funded and aims to use the chemically similar sands and soils of Askja, Iceland to learn about Mars. Check out the video below.
While I was producing video for Mount Holyoke, I covered a class by geology professor Mark McMenamin called "The Paleontology of Problematica." I learned recently that Ukstins Peate actually became a geology fanatic because of McMenamin. In the first-year seminar I shadowed, McMenamin had students questioning our understanding of the origins of life and evolutionary process based on the fossil record available. He was challenging students and inspiring them to learn the stories preserved in rock.
Similarly, Ukstins Peate uses the story the sands tell in Askja, Iceland to help us understand the geology of Mars. Some of her questions are, "What are the processes at play in Askja? Are the clastic deposits wind-blown? Fluvial? What can this tell us about deposits on Mars?" Ukstins Peate works with another scientist who is angling at the life question more directly, "What is the successional process at the Askja sand sheet and how does this help us understand the presence of life on Mars?"
When asked about life on Mars, Peate says that she cannot as a scientist say anything decisive, "All I can say is that there is evidence of water on Mars and that everywhere on Earth where water has been found, there is life."