Mary Beth Wilhelm is an early-career planetary scientist and organic biogeochemist whose current research focus is on biomarker preservation in martian and terrestrial environments.
She is currently a member of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Science Team, a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, and a NASA Civil Servant. She has published academic research in the fields of astrobiology, geomicrobiology, and analog science and exploration, and has geological fieldwork experience.
Ph.D. Candidate, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
School of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences
Major: Planetary Science
Minor: Biochemistry, Certificate in Public Policy
B.A., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Major: Earth Systems, Planetary Science Concentration, & College Scholar
Saint Francis High School, Mountain View, CA
RESEARCH, MISSION & WORK EXPERIENCE
PhD Candidate. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 08/2012-Present.
- PhD thesis investigations involve characterizing the preservation of biomarkers in Mars analog environments to elucidate potential targets for future exploration and interpreting data being collected on the surface of Mars today.
- Currently conducting studies of biomarker preservation in the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Antarctic Dry Valleys, which are two of the oldest and driest deserts on Earth and are excellent terrestrial analogs for the moisture conditions and soil chemistry occurring on the surface of Mars.
- Investigating the ability of unaltered pyroclastic glass deposits to concentrate and preserve organic material with ToF-SIMS.
- Analyzing ancient hydrous minerals on Mars using the CRISM spectrometer currently in orbit.
NASA Civil Servant. NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 05/2010-Present.
- Science team collaborator on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. Work focused on analyzing gas chromatography/mass spectrometry laboratory studies to aid in interpretation of rover data.
Public Policy Intern. NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. 05/2013-08/2013.
- Wrote drafts of the 100-page Announcement of Opportunity for the Mars 2020 Rover for the Mars Exploration Program Office. Also contributed to projects regarding Mars sample caching and Solar System education and public outreach at a programmatic level.
Television Presenter. KQED Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) & Spine Films,
San Francisco, CA 01/2013-08/2013.
- Hosted pre-pilot episode of a Mars human exploration themed show about the physical and mental challenges of long-duration spaceflight.
Science Team Project Manager. Cornell University Violet Satellite Project, Ithaca, NY 08/2008-12/2011.
- Obtained and conducted thermal/vacuum testing and calibration of a UV/Vis spectrometer to launch aboard Cornell’s cube-sat Violet. Additionally, led a group of students in developing and assessing feasibility of science objectives for the instrument.
Researcher. Cornell Microbiology Department, Ithaca, NY 08/2009-12/2011.
- Conducted interdisciplinary undergraduate thesis work in geobiology studying cyanobacteria and biosignatures in a thrombolitic bioherm using molecular methods.
Research Assistant. Cornell Earth & Atmospheric Science Department 05/2011-12/2011.
- Conducted metamorphic petrology research on garnets obtained from northern New Mexico
Research Assistant. Cornell Astronomy Department 08/2008-05/2010.
- Analyzed Spitzer Space Telescope and Palomar Observatory data studying Young Stellar Objects.
Space Life Science Summer Intern. NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX 06/2010-08/2010.
- Analyzed human factors data involving scientific productivity collected from astronauts and scientists working in submersibles as a part of the Pavilion Lake Research Project.
Research Assistant. NASA Ames Research, Atlanta, GA 06/2006-08/2009.
- Summer internships and part time research focused on analysis of liquid-water features and hydrous mineral deposits excavated by impacts on the Martian surface using remote-sensing spectrometers (CRISM), imagers (MOC, HiRISE), and laser altimeters (MOLA).
Research Assistant. SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA 03/2008-08/2008.
- Part time work organizing SETI databases.
AWARDS & HONORS
- 2013-2016 NSF Graduate Fellowship Recipient
- 2014 NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award
- 2013 Georgia Tech D.C. Internship Stipend
- 2013 Lunar & Planetary Institute Career Development Award
- 2013, 2012, 2011 Civil Servant, Distinguished Performance Rating
- 2012-2014 Georgia Tech President’s Fellowship
- 2012 NSF Graduate Fellowship Honorable Mention
- 2010-2012, Cornell University Presidential Research Scholar
- 2007 NASA Ames Honor Award: Student
- Heldmann, J. L., Schurmeier, L., McKay, C., Davila, A., Stoker, C., Marinova, M., & Wilhelm, M. B. (2014). Midlatitude ice-rich ground on Mars as a target in the search for evidence of life and for in situ resource utilization on human missions. Astrobiology, 14(2), 102-118.
- Wilhelm, M.B. and Hewson I. (2012). Characterization of thrombolitic bioherm cyanobacterial assemblages in a meromictic marl lake (Fayetteville Green Lake, New York). Geomicrobiology Journal 29:8.
- Foing, B.H.,… Wilhelm, M.B., et al. (2011). Field astrobiology research in Moon-Mars analogue environment: instruments and methods, International Journal of Astrobiology 10:3.
- Lim, S.S.D., Brady, A.L., and PLRP Team… Wilhelm, M.B., et al. (2011) A Historical Overview of the Pavilion Lake Research Project – Analog Science and Exploration in an Underwater Environment. Geological Society of America Special Paper 483.
FIELD WORK/ANALOG EXPERIENCE
Atacama Desert, Chile
Primary field site for PhD Dissertation research. Sampling for lipid biomarkers in the hyperarid core and across the precipitation gradient in the Yungay region.
British Columbia, Canada
Pavilion Lake Research Project Field Assistant, analyzed productivity and scientific return data from NASA/CSA astronauts and scientists working in submarines.
Central Andes Mountains, Argentina
Field Mapping in the Central Andes (Cornell course)
Southeastern Utah Desert
Organized and led three two-week Mars simulations (Crews 73, 86, 87) at the Mars Desert Research Station. Conducted a number of human factors experiments involving heads-up displays and small-scale imaging, sample collection, and field-testing of the University of North Dakota NDX-1 Space Suit.
Mojave Desert National Preserve, California
NASA Spaceward Bound lecturer and bacterial soil crust study.
Northern New Mexico Mountains
Mapping and garnet sample collection in northern New Mexico mountains (undergraduate research project)
Death Valley, California
Field Methods in Volcanology in the SW US (Georgia Tech course), and perchlorate sampling.
San Rafael Desert, Utah
Cryptoendolithic microbial habitat study in the San Rafael Desert, Utah
Ries Crater & Eifel Volcanic Region, Germany
Impacts and Volcanism in Germany (Cornell course)
North Dakota Badlands
Spaceward Bound Participant studying glacial features for application to Mars
Mount Palomar Observatory, San Diego
Observed of young stellar objects with Cornell astronomers.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Field Assistant for snow coring for extremophiles.
- “The Atacama Desert: Notes from the Field” (oral), October 21, 2014: Breakfast and Learn, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
- “Identification of Biomarkers in Volcanic Analog Mars Analog Environments” (oral), October 17, 2013: Georgia Institute of Technology Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Graduate Symposium, Atlanta, Georgia.
- “Organic Entrainment and Preservation in Volcanic Glasses” (poster and oral), August 5, 2013: Analog Sites for Mars Missions II: Past, Present and Future Missions to Mars, Washington, D.C.
- “Curiosity: Results from the Mars Science Laboratory” (oral), July 15, 2013: NASA HQ, Washington, D.C.
- “Structural Variation in the Ancient Phyllosilicates at Mawrth Vallis, Mars” (poster), March 21, 2013: 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, Texas
- “Desert Extremophiles and Martian Habitability” (oral), October 12, 2012: Geophysics Seminar, Georgia Institute of Technology Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Department
- “Characterization of thrombolitic bioherm cyanobacterial assemblages in a meromictic marl lake (Fayetteville Green Lake, New York)” (poster) October, 2011: Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, Cornell University
- “Your local early-Earth analog: Microbial ecology of a modern-day microbialite in Green Lake, Fayetteville, NY” April 11, 2011: Cornell Astronomy Department’s Planetary Lunch Seminar Series
- “The Biosignatures and Microbial Ecology of Cyanobacterial Communities in an Early-Earth Analog Lake in Fayetteville, NY” (oral presentation) April, 2011: The National Undergraduate Research Conference
- “The Violet Satellite Project” (poster) April, 2011: The National Undergraduate Research Conference
- “Ejecta-Excavated Subsurface Clays Detected in SW Arabia Terra, Mars.”
(poster) December, 2011: Meeting of the American Geophysical Union
- “Mars Analog Research” March 5, 2010, Cornell Astronomical Society Public Lecture Series
- “’Life On ‘Mars’- Adventures at the Mars Desert Research Station” March 1, 2010: Cornell Astronomy Department’s Planetary Lunch Seminar Series
- “Diving Deep for the Moon and Mars: The Pavilion Lake Research Project” October 26, 2009: Cornell Astronomy Department’s Planetary Lunch Seminar Series
- “The Future of Lunar Exploration” (panel discussion) July 20, 2008: Lunar Science Conference at NASA Ames Research Center
- “Correlation of Regional Topography and Martian Gully Orientation” (poster) October 2008: Division of Planetary Science Conference
- “Correlation of Regional Topography and Martian Gully Orientation”
(poster) April 2008: Astrobiology Conference
- “Downward Regional Topography toward Craters Containing Martian Gullies”
(poster) February 2008: Houston Gullies Conference
PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS & OTHER INFORMATION
- PBS KQED Science Contributor (02/2014-Present): Contributing short science blogs for the KQED Science website science (http://blogs.kqed.org/science/).
- President: The Planetary Society at Georgia Tech (07/2013-Present): Responsible for organizing local education and public outreach events.
- The Planetary Society
- The American Geophysical Union