March Postdoc Spotlight - Shoshana Weider

Mercury. (Photo credit: NASA/Carnegie Institution for Science/APL
Wednesday, March 05, 2014 

In a city as big as London, with all its light pollution, it is nearly impossible to see the spectacular stars, planets, and galaxies that decorate the night sky. But for DTM MESSENGER postdoctoral fellow, Shoshana Weider, growing up in the metropolis did not weaken her desire to investigate the universe. As a teenager, she took extra-curricular astronomy classes and reveled in inspirational movies like Apollo 13. Weider chose to study Earth Sciences for her undergraduate at the University of Oxford simply because she wanted to understand why the Earth looks and behaves the way it does. Her transition to lunar geology for her Ph.D. at Birkbeck College, University of London, made perfect sense as it coupled her long-lasting love for space with her geological knowledge. 

Fast-forward to 2014 and you’ll see Weider working alongside DTM Staff Scientist Larry Nittler as a MESSENGER fellow. Weider analyzes and interprets the geochemical data obtained by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which is the first mission to orbit Mercury. In particular, she takes data from the spacecraft’s X-Ray Spectrometer to measure the chemical makeup of Mercury’s surface and to learn about the planet’s history, geology, and place in the wider context of our solar system. 

Artist's illustration of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury. (Credit: NASA/John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Ten years ago, when she was an undergraduate at Oxford, if you’d told Weider she’d be a planetary geologist living in Washington D.C., she probably wouldn’t have believed you. But having engaged in full-time research for over six years, she has now realized that she has a genuine passion and talent for science communication. In her free time, Weider has been busy doing science editing and writing. For the past two years, she has been freelancing for Form & Content Media. She helps run two R&D websites (The Briefing and UCL Institute of Biomedical Engineeringand copyedits technical articles for the International Society of Optics and Photonics (SPIE). Weider has also recently started a blog, Postcards From Planet Earth, in which she attempts to address—in a scientifically accurate and engaging manner—an overarching question:

"If we were to send pieces of the Earth into space for would-be alien planetary geologists to find and learn about our planet, what would we send?”

Or phrased in another way:

“What rocks (or things) reveal the most, or the best, things about home, planet Earth—this magical world that can sustain life?”

Shoshana and 'Roger' the parrot during the Meteoritical Society Annual meeting in Cairns, Australia, in 2012. (Photo Credit: Shoshana Weider)

As a scientist, Weider has attended numerous national and international conferences, attended hundreds of talks, and edited several other scientist’s works and papers. And through the years she has come to realize that not all scientists have the ability to make their research accessible to everyone. With her knowledge of the Earth and the solar system, combined with her strong writing, editing, and presentation skills, she hopes to make science more understandable for everyone, whether they are fellow scientists, policy makers, interested lay-people, or children. She takes part in outreach activities whenever possible and enjoys working with students, parents, and teachers, and even getting to appear on NPR. 

Ten years from now, perhaps we will find Weider living in New York City with her fellow flock of bloggers writing vivid answers to her own science questions. But for now, you will find her at DTM continuing to unravel the mysteries of Mercury and the solar system, and answering some of the questions she had as a child squinting up at the sky to see the stars. Weider will be presenting some of her work, “Geochemical Terranes on the Innermost Planet: Possible Origins of Mercury’s High-Magnesium Region,” at the 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas on March 19, 2014.

Written by Robin A. Dienel
5 March 2014