More than research: MAVEN team members showcase the value of science to society


More than research: MAVEN team members showcase the value of science to society

What does studying a distant planet have to do with human affairs here on Earth? Martian science doesn’t always seem to have a direct connection with our society, but it does in fact provide many benefits. Two MAVEN team members are demonstrating how their scientific research and their experiences as scientists can positively impact their communities at events being held this month.

Sharing experiences at CUWiP 

Neesha Schnepf, in the yellow sweater, interacting with participants at the 2014 Northeastern Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP).

Each January, students attend the American Physical Society (APS) Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), three-day regional conferences for college physics majors. This year, one of the conferences will be jointly hosted by Cornell University and Ithaca College. There MAVEN team member Dr. Neesha Schnepf, a research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, will be giving a plenary talk and speaking on several panels.

“Participating in this year’s CUWiP is coming full circle for me,” said Schnepf. “Ten years ago, I was in my final year of undergrad at Cornell and helped Cornell host this conference for the first time. Everything about it was an incredible experience,” they said.

Schnepf has been involved with CUWiPs ever since then, even helping to host one at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2017. This year, Schnepf will be presenting some of the research they do with MAVEN, introducing the concepts of geomagnetism and space physics to the undergraduate participants and inspiring them to think of physics as an ongoing investigation they can participate in.

“Many of the women who attend CUWiP are the only women in their physics major, in their classes, or in their research groups,” said Schnepf. “During my first CUWiP, I was 1 of 5 women studying engineering physics in classes totaling over 30 people. That loneliness and lack of belonging can really take a toll,” they said. “Hearing other women speak about their research work and experiences in science—both positive and negative—goes a very long way to both building camaraderie and envisioning yourself having a future as a scientist.”

In addition to the plenary, Schnepf will serve on three panels: Reflections on Women and Gender Minorities in Physics, Navigating Male-Dominated Workspaces, and lead a LGBTQ+ panel discussion.

STEM Poster Day at the Colorado State Capitol

Sky Shaver presenting her research at the Europlanet Science Congress 2022 Meeting.

One day while checking her email, Sky Shaver, a Ph.D. Aerospace student at the University of Colorado Boulder and graduate research assistant on MAVEN, saw an email from her department about the STEM Poster Day at the Colorado State Capitol. As soon as she saw it, Shaver knew she needed to apply, as this would be a great opportunity to practice talking about her research with Coloradans, including her state legislators. “Personally, I believe outreach is one of the most important aspects of being a scientist. The public and our government should know about the cutting-edge research that is going on around the country and why it is valuable for all of us,” Shaver said.

The STEM Poster Day is hosted by Project Bridge, a group of scientists whose mission is to foster public interest in primary science research and to create new advocates for science research. Early career scientists from all around Colorado will be presenting on a breadth of research topics, including bioethics, engineering, healthcare, and more. The goal of this event is to create a dialog between scientists, legislators, and their communities.

With so many different scientists in attendance, Shaver hopes that the legislators learn a little bit more about Mars from her presentation, including how solar wind interacts with the planet’s atmosphere. Shaver also hopes they’re intrigued to find out more about all the incredible research happening with MAVEN and at LASP, where she works.

“Colorado has the second-largest aerospace economy in the United States, and many of the constituents are involved in space research and development,” said Shaver, who hopes this event opens the door for all legislators to reach out to the space community to find ways to facilitate growth and well-being around the state and country. “My research on the Martian atmosphere can be applied to events on Earth, and other scientists at LASP study phenomena on our home planet that is used to protect all people and our way of life.”

The value of space science to society  

Space exploration requires determination and extensive collaboration. It’s also inherently inspiring. “Curiosity and imagination can be nurtured and grown just as much as worry and self-doubt,” said Schnepf. “As scientists, we can play an important role in nourishing and encouraging that growth of curiosity and imagination in others.”

By Willow Reed – MAVEN Communications Lead

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