Lauren McKeown

I am a third year Ph.D. student and member of the Trinity College Dublin Earth and Planetary Surface Processes Group. I am interested in planetary cryospheric science and surface processes on icy planetary objects. I graduated with a first class honors degree in Physics with Astronomy and Space Science from University College Dublin and am now unifying my long – time interest in planetary science with my background in physics. My project is entitled An Investigation of the Role of Carbon Dioxide Sublimation as a Geomorphic Agent on Mars, and I am funded by an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship.


#LoveIrishResearch Campaign: Lauren (second from the right) with other Irish Research Council – funded students. Third from left: Chair of the Irish Research Council; Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer, Minister of State for Skills, Research and Innovation; Damien English and Director of the Irish Research Council; Dr. Eucharia Meehan.

The Martian atmosphere is comprised of over 95% carbon dioxide, and yet we still do not know to what extent this dominant volatile interacts with Mars’ surface in the present day. While current atmospheric conditions on Mars are not conducive to the sustainability of liquid water without the presence of salts, phase changes of CO2 are believed to play a significant role in the formation of features such as Martian gullies, ‘Swiss cheese’ terrain, furrows and spiders, among others. My project aims to investigate whether CO2 may form linear gullies – a sub type of Martian gullies that populate dunes in the southern hemisphere and are characterized by small alcoves, narrow channels, levées and terminal pits. In particular, I want to understand the likely mechanisms responsible for terminal pit formation, because we have no earth analogues for these features. I spend a lot of time in the lab placing CO2 ice blocks on sand beds and analyzing the morphologies produced. I also enjoy exploring high-resolution images of the Martian surface, to observe new features or assign geographical trends to existing ones.


Linear gullies on Russell Crater Megadune. These gullies are distinguished from classic ACA (Alcove – Channel – Apron) gullies which are also found on Earth, by their terminal circular depressions or ‘pits’. These replace the aprons typically associated with wet debris – flow processes. Multiple smaller detached pits surround many linear gully main terminal pits. Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

I am from Dublin – born and bred, but I have travelled a lot for my work. A huge highlight for me so far in my career was being selected by the Irish Research Council in 2015 to complete a summer internship at NASA Ames. During this internship, I worked with other interns in a Space Biosciences Dept. group to investigate new ways to facilitate long-haul space travel to Mars.


Summer Internship at NASA Ames: Lauren during her internship at Ames, attending the New Horizons Pluto Flyby event.

My ultimate goal after my Ph.D. is to return to Ames or NASA JPL to conduct further research in my field and then to return home to Ireland to share this connection with graduate students and expand the small (but growing!) planetary science community here. If you haven’t guessed already – I’m ambitious and think ahead 🙂 When not doing that, I enjoy art, writing creatively and working on my on/off relationship with the gym. Outreach is very important to me and I try to contribute to the visibility of women in science by visiting schools and telling young students about my research and my interests. I believe science does not have a uniform and I am passionate about eradicating stereotypes in STEM.

stem2“Hello Earthlings”: Lauren skyping the Assumption Junior School to answer any questions the future of science had on “All Things Space”.
Diversity at NASA Ames: Lauren, pictured at the Women @ Ames stand, supporting a field without stereotypes.

10 thoughts on “Lauren McKeown

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  1. Thank you so much for putting yourself, your work, your thoughts, your persona out there into the public eye for the rest of us to see and be inspired. Inspired to think, to talk, to wonder, to dream.


  2. Dr. McKeown,
    The topic of your project appears interesting and consequential, notwithstanding the colloquialisms in your prose reminiscent of a high school book report.
    SK, MSME


  3. Dr. McKeown,

    I find your biography inspiring, we need more women in Science. You have the ability to break a mold in the idea that scientists is a male domain. I know that you will make it to JPL in Pasadena. I only wish that I could introduce you to a fellow scientist who works there on some Martian Projects.
    As his high school classmate, I underestimated him once. He took modern dance as an elective, and we all including myself teased him about it. He had the last laugh, as he was one of the most popular boys in school. He taught all of us a lesson, one that I have not forgotten.
    That is neither here nor there. The point is never underestimate anyone based on their looks, as you have no idea who they truly are, and what they are capable of.
    If you get the chance, look him up, his name is Stephen Collins. I am sure the two of you can share many interesting discussions about Mars.
    I look forward to following your scientific exploits and discoveries in the future.
    Please excuse my fellow primate that made an assumption about you; he is part of the problem, you are part of the solution.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ( Former NOAA scientist turned TV contributor…) Ms Lauren, use your 15 minutes of fame to capitalize on the fleeting moment by accepting invitations from television networks to comment on the topic, host programs about science, contribute to conversations about space, and add value to science in general. Simply stay on message, and be yourself. A professional representation will enhance your credibility and add value to your words in the future. Don’t be shy, embrace the opportunity, and enjoy the platform. Sincerely, Scott D Blalock – Consulting Meteorologist in Tennessee.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dr. Mckeown,
    You have graduated, written your thesis, endured countless hours of rubbing eyes… coffee… and probably cold pizza. Your supporters pushed and encouraged all along the way … they knew.
    The lengths you have gone to make sure all who helped are noted tells me that what they knew is that Someday you were going to make your mark in the world… you probably have in so many ways already that might have escaped you but certainly not the people who you have helped, encouraged and influenced without even realizing.
    Now here is a chance to start a “Conversation”. I believe that so many people are using technology and bypassing real conversation that is …it has become an epidemic.
    You have seen it at your level in this Dating App. This gentleman knows nothing of you …and even though he put his foot in his mouth… and presumed or assumed something he is a product of technology taking away true conversation. I am not saying he is the one but I am saying that if you look around millions of people have lost their true voice.. have no real honest conversations with human contact across a table.
    It is a plague and a blight and the age it starts has no bounds as I am sure you have seen 2 year olds with a phone engaged in a restaurant not with their parents at all. I have… 5 people together only in body at same table all looking at a phone, many times.

    Boys and girls are growing up to be men and women that cannot talk to each other because they won’t put down the phone or the tablet. Technology is great but in this case no.
    So start a “Conversation” a movement as it were to encourage others to put down the phone… real talk.. cards at a table …game night or just sitting rocking on a porch, Once in a while and hopefully will start a habit.

    Taking a walk.. waving to the policeman or smiling at bus driver. I know a good bit of my neighbors because I started a conversation.
    IF you cannot talk to someone you cannot find out how compatible or not you are. MAYBE this man is a product of technology , just what I am talking about.
    And if not you move on. Maybe start with “ you were probably a receptionist” person. Get him out from behind his phone and see what he is really like , your call. BUT encourage others to do same as so many graduates leaving high school cannot carry on a conversation with anyone much less the opposite sex. This hampers them in their reaching out to professors, future friends, future Employers and their family. They can do so much better if they open their mouth and carry on a conversation.
    Just Sayin.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just a thought, I wonder if the CO2 on Mars would be more similar to how CO2 is distributed in bread from yeast and sugar reactions versus a CO2 ice block slowly dissolving on sand. When bread is cooked it will rise to point and starts getting a crack forming on the crust, sometimes it is small, sometimes large, and sometimes multiple will form. BTW Dr. McKeown, good luck and godspeed in your future endeavours, there is much to learn from space and planets.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Dr. McKeown,

    I read your story on Fox News… I am too old to Twitt…

    If I was not 54, in an 18-year relationship, and now in a wheelchair part-time, I would volunteer to sweep you off your feet? High IQ’s and stunningly attractive are my thing!

    Perhaps we will meet in another life.

    Can I give you a little advice… Look for the unassuming slightly awkward guy. Him being a little awkward around you likely means he is not a player with lots of experience with women and nervous because he is digging you. Just saying…

    You will find a great guy Lauren!


    Liked by 1 person

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