You Have to Know These 4 Outstanding Women in Planetary Geology

You Have to Know These 4 Outstanding Women in Planetary Geology

To bring more diversity to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, a pipeline is necessary. A pipeline can attract children from all backgrounds to STEM, foster a love of learning STEM subjects throughout the school years, and prepare young adults for careers in STEM fields.

One important element in an effective STEM pipeline is the inspiration provided by role models. The four women who have won the G. K. Gilbert Award for outstanding contributions to planetary geology make excellent STEM role models.

About the G. K. Gilbert Award

The G. K. Gilbert Award is sponsored by the Planetary Geology Division of the Geological Society of America (GSA). The GSA was established in 1888 and boasts a membership of more than 20,000 people in over 100 countries. In addition to granting awards, the GSA hosts academic conferences, publishes scientific findings, offers grants, assists geoscience teachers, supports diversity in geoscience education, and promotes geoscience awareness.

GSA planetary

The Planetary Geology Division is among 21 GSA divisions. This division was established in 1981 and sponsors several awards for planetary geoscientists and students. The G. K. Gilbert Award focuses on outstanding contributions to planetary geoscience, which can be in the areas of geology, geochemistry, mineralogy, petrology, tectonics, geophysics, or meteoritics.

The award is named for geologist G. K. Gilbert. Most of Gilbert’s work focused on the western United States. When studying a crater in Arizona, Gilbert became curious about similar craters on the surface of the moon, thus leading him in 1892 to observe the moon from the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. He was among the first to apply earth-based geology to planetary geoscience, and as a result, the GSA named the award in his honor in 1983.

1995: Baerbel Lucchitta

Baerbel Lucchitta was the first woman to win the G. K. Gilbert Award, and one of the first women in the field of astrogeology. She worked with the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) Astrogeology Branch to map potential moon landing sites. In particular, she was responsible for mapping the landing site for the Apollo 17 mission. She also taught Apollo astronauts about the moon.

Lucchitta earned her doctorate in geology from Pennsylvania State University, and after the moon missions, she continued her work in planetary geoscience. She contributed to unmanned missions to Jupiter’s moons and to Mars. Later, her work advanced the scientific understanding of the movement of Antarctic glaciers. Her career also includes her positions as the associate chief of the USGS Astrogeology Branch in Flagstaff, Arizona, and on the faculty of Northern Arizona University. Now in her retirement, she retains emeritus status with the USGS.

2007: Maria Zuber

Maria Zuber won the G. K. Gilbert Award in 2007, becoming the second woman to do so. She earned her doctorate in geophysics from Brown University and is currently Vice President for Research at MIT. She is the first woman to chair a science department at MIT, and she has also held positions at Johns Hopkins University and the NASA Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), where she became the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission.

Zuber’s research focuses on tectonics in planetary geoscience. Her work on experiments using spacecraft lasers and radio tracking has led to her involvement in more than six NASA missions exploring the moon, Mars, Mercury, and several asteroids. Her other honors include being a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the GSA, as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

2010: Carle Pieters

In 2010, Carle Pieters became the third woman to win the G. K. Gilbert Award. Her research centers on analyzing the composition and evolution of planetary surfaces. Her specialty is remote sensing of data using visible, near-infrared, and mid-infrared radiation. Recent NASA experiments under her leadership have analyzed surface material from the moon and from the asteroids Vesta and Ceres.

Pieters started her professional career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sarawak, Malaysia. She later earned her doctorate in planetary science from MIT, after which she became a space scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She then joined the Brown University Department of Geological Sciences, which is now known as the Department of Earth, Environment, and Planetary Sciences, where she is a professor. Pieters is also the founder of the NASA Reflectance Experiment Laboratory (RELAB), a multi-user spectroscopy lab at Brown.

2016: M. Darby Dyar

The most recent woman to win the G. K. Gilbert Award was M. Darby Dyar, who received it in 2016. She earned her doctorate in geochemistry from MIT and is currently chair of the Department of Astronomy at Mt. Holyoke College, as well as a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Among other honors, she is a fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, GSA, and Geochemical Society. She is also a Helmholtz International Fellow. Last year, she won the Eugene Shoemaker Distinguished Scientist Medal from the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institutes.

Dyar’s research focuses on the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen throughout the solar system, particularly in the Earth, the moon, Mars, and meteorites. Her work has led the way in using machine learning to interpret data. She also contributed to the Mars Science Laboratory, the NASA mission that landed the Curiosity rover on Mars in 2012. Currently, she is involved in three NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institutes.