The students dreaming of a Red Christmas

As many of us tuck into our Christmas pudding, two teams of Trinity undergraduate students from Geography and Earth Sciences will be thinking less of snow and more of sand when they look to the skies – with their Red Planet-themed research projects up and running at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah.

Geologist Orgel makes her way back to  the Mars Desert Research Station in the Utah desert

The MDRS aims to investigate the feasibility of a human exploration of Mars and uses the Utah desert’s Mars-like terrain to simulate working conditions on the red planet. Scientists, students and enthusiasts work together developing field tactics and studying the terrain.

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Posted in Blog, Mars

Our MDRS Team Logo

Our Logo was spearheaded by Liza with input from the team. It started out as a simple pencil drawing and ended up an impressive, striking Logo.

MDRS_TCD_LogoCapture d_écran 2017-11-30 à 13.19.44

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Space Walk with Niamh Shaw

On the evening of the 28th of November, two of our team members went to the event ‘Walking (slowly) towards Space’ in the Science Gallery at Trinity.

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Today Utah, tomorrow Mars

“We need to speak to the mission commander’’. Professor Mary Bourke speaks to a table of seven Geography and Earth Sciences undergraduate students gathered in the Museum building. To an onlooker, it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary class meeting. The modest classroom has been transformed into makeshift mission control. The topic under discussion is an Earth-based analogue mission to Mars due to be conducted this December.







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Pierazzo International Student Travel Award


Lauren Mc Keown has been selected as the non – U.S. based recipient of the Planetary Science Institute 2017 Pierazzo International Student Travel Award to attend a planetary science related conference in the U.S.

Lauren will attend the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in Houston, Texas in March 2018, where she will be presented with the award. Lauren will present on her research conducted on the efficacy of CO2 Sublimation on granular substrate under Martian conditions at the Open University Mars Simulation Chamber.

The Pierazzo International Student Travel Award memorialises Dr. Betty Pierazzo who was a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute before her untimely passing in 2011. Betty believed in the strength of international collaboration and this award continues her legacy annually in helping postgraduate students to foster relationships and disseminate their research internationally.

Read more:

Pierazzo International Student Travel Award Winners Announced

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Free Anthropocene eBook

Kelly, J., P. Scarpino, H. Berry, J. Syvitski and M. Meybeck, Eds. (2017). Rivers of the Anthropocene, California: University of California Press.

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Posted in Anthropocene, Publications

“I’m an engineer, I talk to machines, not humans!”

Today during her visit to TCD, Ilaria Cinelli took some time out of her busy schedule to chat to us about her experience on the MDRS Crew 185.

Emily: Hello Ilaria, thank you for chatting with us today!

Ilaria: No problem, I am glad to get to meet the students face to face. I am managing 20 teams that are spread all over the world so I don’t get to speak to all those involved in person.

Emily:  Wow! How many countries are involved in this mission?

Ilaria: I am managing teams in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, the US, Brazil, India, Japan. I’m extremely busy making sure I keep up to date with progress for each team across a whole range of time zones! I am also submitting my PhD thesis in the next week so I have a lot on my plate! (Illaria chuckles)

Emily: Gosh, that’s a lot to take on. You have been mission commander before, when did you first get involved in the program?

Ilaria: My first mission was in 2014-2015. The MDRS approached me to ask if I would be interested in getting involved. I had worked in space science before and they said they thought I had potential to be a mission commander and I have been involved ever since.

Emily: What has been the pull to return to the station for multiple missions?

Ilaria: I think this program is fantastic for public outreach and engagement on the topic of Mars exploration. The issue of science communication is something that the science community has been trying to address in recent years. It is international, volunteer led stations such as the MDRS that can break down the barriers to communication and get everyone involved in the conversation.

Emily: How has your approach to organising missions changed in that time?

Ilaria: I have definitely gained more confidence in my managerial skills. Each mission is a completely different experience and the work we do changes with each crew. So every year we are starting from scratch so one can’t become complacent. The missions always keep me on my toes!’

Emily: Is there any moment over your time involved with the MDRS that stands out to you in particular?

Ilaria: Oh, last year we had a particularly challenging episode when all the water onsite was frozen by freezing weather conditions. We were surrounded by ice and snow for a couple of days. We were completely isolated with no water, no toilets and all we could do was wait. When something like that happens, it really tests the group dynamic. It is surprising to see how people will react in situations such as this! It no longer becomes about the work but survival.

Emily: What was the greatest take-home lesson from that experience?

Ilaria (laughing): I am an engineer, I talk to machines not humans! I had to learn how to cope with a lack of cohesion among the crew. As mission commander, it was my duty to bring everyone back together. It was challenging given the circumstances but also gave us huge insight into the raw humanity one would experience during a mission.

Emily: Did the experience inform your preparations for the current mission?

Ilaria: Yes, this year we have a psychologist on remote. I decided that it would be beneficial for the team to have an independent professional psychologist to speak to. This way the crew can separate the psychological struggles we encounter from the scientific work being completed. We also have one crew member present who has a medical qualification and is specialised in trauma which will be useful in the isolated environment.

Emily: The crews that you manage are made up of academics from a variety of disciplines, how does that effect the work?

Ilaria: It is fascinating to observe the variety of approaches taken by different disciplines. As an engineer, I have different goals compared to that of a psychologist or an artist involved in the mission. It is interesting to see the different approaches taken to the same dilemma or question and as mission commander, I must try to get into their mentality. It can be hard but I learn a lot from it.

Emily: It has been said that the Trinity team is unusual in that it is made up of 7 females and 1 male. Are the teams usually male dominated?

Ilaria: Yes, it is great to see that the Trinity team has so many young women eager to get involved in planetary research. As an engineer, I do often find myself being the only woman in the room, however I think it is important not to focus on this. The most important thing is how you view yourself. I am here first and foremost as an engineer. Not a “female’’ engineer.

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