This fall, planetary scientist Shannon Curry will join the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), where she will also hold a faculty position in the Department of Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences.
Curry is the principal investigator (PI) of NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission, which is exploring the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere and how they interact with the Sun and solar wind.
“We are delighted to welcome Shannon Curry, a leader in the nation’s interplanetary exploration program and the field of spacecraft instrumentation, to LASP,” said Director Dan Baker.
Curry is already a familiar face at LASP, where she became an affiliate in 2021 after being named PI of the MAVEN mission, which she joined as a member of the science team prior to launch in 2013. At that time, she was at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has since held a research faculty position.
“Shannon has held a joint research appointment between LASP and the University of California, Berkeley, and has played key roles in this capacity,” said Baker. “Her CU Boulder faculty appointment will greatly amplify her contributions to teaching, research, and space policy within LASP.”
MAVEN was previously under the leadership of LASP planetary scientist Bruce Jakosky. When Jakosky retired in 2021, Curry took over leadership of MAVEN, becoming the youngest-ever principal investigator of a NASA mission. The move will return CU Boulder to being the lead PI institution for the MAVEN mission.
Curry has “made a significant mark in the development of science results from MAVEN and has made the mission her own with her leadership, new ideas and directions, and a tremendous amount of energy,” said Jakosky. “She’s now poised to be a real scientific and programmatic leader in the community.”
Interplanetary is interdisciplinary
Curry’s scientific research focuses on the dynamics and evolution of planetary atmospheres, specifically the atmospheric dynamics of Mars and Venus. At LASP, Curry will be developing mission concepts and instruments for future flights to other bodies in the solar system, including Venus.
“We look forward to working with her to make those goals a reality and in helping her to teach future generations of planetary scientists,” said Frank Eparvier, LASP’s associate director for science.
Curry says she looks forward to working at LASP with a broad range of researchers in a diversity of science disciplines.
“LASP is the perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It is more than a physics or astronomy or planetary lab—it is a robust institution with truly cross-divisional and interdisciplinary, cutting-edge science and engineering that is moving all of these fields forward,” said Curry. “I’m really looking forward to working with scientists of such an exceptional caliber at LASP. To have this much expertise in the same building will be an incredible experience.”
Curry will begin teaching in Spring 2024. LASP’s focus on education and its affiliation with CU Boulder, including APS, will make it easier to recruit students and for those students’ research to fit directly into an academic department, she said. Additionally, some student members of Curry’s current research group may transfer to CU Boulder.
“Because there are so many faculty members at LASP, there is a really nice balance between teaching and research,” said Curry. “That combination will be a really exciting new chapter for me and my group.”
Looking ahead, above and below
Curry is looking forward to the next decade in planetary science, including upcoming Venus missions as well as missions to ocean worlds—such as NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s icy moon and Dragonfly, “a helicopter on water skis” to explore Saturn’s moon Titan—that will look for subsurface life.
“It’s going be an incredible decade for planetary science. I think that we are learning so much right now about the outer solar system and about moons of other planets—moons that may have oceans beneath an icy crust,” Curry said. “All of a sudden, we’re talking about a whole new paradigm. We’re going to be rewriting what we know about the origin of these bodies and about our own origins.”
Curry earned her doctorate from the University of Michigan, where she ran supercomputer simulations of the Martian atmosphere. She also holds a master’s in atmospheric and space physics from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s in astrophysics with a minor in art history from Tufts University in Massachusetts. She was awarded a NASA Early Career Fellowship from the Planetary Science Division in 2017.
-Written by Sara Pratt, LASP senior communications specialist
Founded a decade before NASA, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder is on a mission to transform human understanding of the cosmos by pioneering new technologies and approaches to space science. LASP is the only academic research institute in the world to have sent instruments to every planet in our solar system and beyond. LASP began celebrating its 75th anniversary in April 2023.