USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

Planetary Scientist Nick Schneider Takes You Inside NASA’s MAVEN Mission To Mars!

The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools.

Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Nick Schneider

Nick SchneiderWhen NASA’s newest robotic explorer, MAVEN, was launched in the Fall of 2013 and rocketed toward Mars on an historic quest to unravel the ancient mystery of the red planet’s upper atmosphere, it carried sophisticated technology designed and built by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder — technology vital to the success of MAVEN’s mission.

A key scientist on this project is Nick Schneider, Associate Professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado, and researcher in the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

“MAVEN — which stands for Mars Atmosphere & Volatile Evolution — is a robotic orbiter that will measure how quickly Mars is losing its atmosphere today and whether Mars atmosphere could have made the planet habitable in the past,” he explains.

Nick, who specializes in studying planetary atmospheres, especially Mars, where atmospheric loss may have stripped the planet of its habitability, served as the Principal Investigator in charge of designing and building MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph –a $20 million remote sensing component that will allow scientists to study Mars and its atmosphere at a distance by looking at the ultraviolet light it emits.

Following a journey of more than 440 million miles, the MAVEN spacecraft will arrive at Mars in the Fall of 2014. This is NASA’s 21st mission to the red planet, but the first one devoted to studying the Martian upper atmosphere.

In addition to the MAVEN mission and the study of Mars, Nick’s research interests also involve other areas of planetary astronomy, including the odd case of Jupiter’s moon.

He also enjoys teaching at all levels, and he is active in efforts to improve undergraduate astronomy education. He received the Teaching Excellence Award from the Boulder Faculty Assembly in 2010. He serves as the Education & Public Outreach Officer of his professional organization, the Divisional for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.

In addition, with University of Colorado graduates Jeff Bennett, Megan Donahue, and Mark Voit, he co-authored the most widely-used textbook in astronomy: The Cosmic Perspective.

Nick received his Bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from Dartmouth College in 1979 and his Ph.D. in planetary science from the University of Arizona in 1988. In 1991, he received the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award.