Professor Dyar Gains NASA Grants

Posted: April 12, 2006

MHC outdistanced other Bay State colleges in gaining NASA funding for research on Mars. Associate professor of astronomy and geology Darby Dyar--and her students--will use the two grants totaling $465,000 to understand data from current missions and to prepare instruments for a future mission scheduled to land in 2011.

On Thursday, April 6, NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Solar System Exploration Division, in Washington, DC, announced the selection of several Massachusetts institutions for grants to support the agency's Mars Fundamental Research Program.

NASA solicited proposals to cultivate and pursue the most innovative scientific research concerning the myriad of unknowns about atmospheric, climatological, and geologic processes on Mars, according to a NASA press release.

The research supports the Vision for Space Exploration, NASA's long-term plan to return astronauts to the moon and extend exploration to Mars and beyond. Institutions and maximum grants' values are:

Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley: $465,000
Boston University, Boston: $409,467
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge: $363,942
Harvard University, Cambridge: $30,000

With the funding, Dyar will carry out two projects involving Mars landers. One will use Mössbauer spectroscopy to study materials analogous to Mars minerals and to help interpret data currently being sent from the Mars Exploration Rovers. The second project will help to develop laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy instruments for the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory lander. These grants are in addition to nearly $200,000 in funding from the NASA Cosmochemistry Program that Dyar is using to study meteorites from Mars as well as asteroids.

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