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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 14, 2008

NASA's Blaney to visit UI, inspire educators, students at Jan. 17 talk

Diana Blaney, a scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., wants to inspire the next generation of rocket scientists and astronauts.

She hopes to accomplish this by speaking to local educators, University of Iowa faculty, staff and students and members of the general public during a visit to the University of Iowa campus to give an informal talk at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, in Room 310 of the UI College of Education's South Lindquist Center.

The UI student group, Graduate Students in Science Education (GSSE), and the UI Student Government are co-sponsoring the talk.

Her talk, which is free and open to the public, will focus on sharing knowledge about the Phoenix Student Intern Program (PSIP) for the 2007-08 Phoenix Mars Lander Mission, a NASA project involving 13 teams selected from across the country. One of those teams involves two local teenagers and a UI graduate student, who have a rare opportunity to participate in a NASA Mars mission. She will also talk about the some of the current results of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which just celebrated their 4th year on the Martian surface.

"Collaboration and negotiation is key to scientific development and understanding," said Matthew Benus, president of GSSE. "Dr. Blaney's talk will provide key insights as to how collaboration and negotiation leads to innovation in scientific work."

Juan Diaz, a graduate student pursuing his doctorate in the UI College of Education Science Education Program in the Department of Teaching and Learning, has been paired with City High School Students Tomas Daly and Fletcher Bates. The three are exploring the surface of Mars as participants in the PSIP. For the Phoenix Mission, Blaney, who has a doctorate in geology and geosciences from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, will investigate the sulfur and volatile cycles at the landing site and be an active participant in science operations and analyses. Blaney is co-investigator of Soil Science and Geological Studies with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is also the Deputy Project Scientist on the Mars Exploration Rovers.

"I look forward to sharing insights about the relevance of this program, and hope to inspire faculty and other local educators to work with students to pursue careers in these areas of science and engineering," Blaney said.

Diaz, Daly and Bates are working with Blaney, using a device called a Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer or MECA, one of the seven instruments aboard the deck of the Phoenix spacecraft.

MECA is a combination of several scientific instruments including a wet chemistry laboratory, optical and atomic force microscopes, and a thermal and electrical conductivity probe, said Diaz. By dissolving small amounts of soil in water, MECA can determine pH levels, amounts of minerals such as magnesium, chloride, bromide and sulfate anions, dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide. The optical and atomic force microscope will look at Martian soils at higher spatial resolution than any previous instrument.

The local team members are working alongside scientists and engineers on the Phoenix Mars Mission, which launched Saturday, Aug 4, 2007. After its May 25, 2008, arrival at Mars, the Phoenix Mars Lander's assignment is to dig through the Martian soil and ice in the arctic region and use its onboard scientific instruments to analyze the samples it retrieves.

Following months of preparation and special training, teachers and students will spend one week at the University of Arizona Science Operations Center in Tucson, Ariz. in summer 2008, during "landed operations" to help investigate the surface of Mars. PSIP students and teachers will also have many opportunities to tell others what it is like to work on a Mars mission. They will convey their experiences to other students, teachers and members of the public through outreach activities and events such as presentations, Webcasts, and publications.

The PSIP is a program designed to give high school students like Bates and Daly and their teachers active experience in the areas of science, engineering, mathematics and technology. The 13 teams, each consisting of one teacher and two students, were selected from across the country following a national application process. These student-teacher teams will each work with a member scientist of the Phoenix Science Team.

Phoenix is the first mission of NASA's Mars Scout Program of competitively proposed, relatively low-cost missions to Mars. The University of Arizona leads the Phoenix mission, with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership at Lockheed Martin. International contributions are provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland), the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), the Max Planck Institute (Germany), and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

For more information on the project, see

For more information on Blaney, see

For more information or special accommodations to attend the talk, contact Matthew Benus at

Founded in 1872, the University of Iowa College of Education was the nation's first permanent college-level department of education. Since then, the college has gained an international reputation of excellence in programs as diverse as Rehabilitation Counseling, Statistics and Measurement, Counseling Psychology, Elementary and Secondary Teacher Education, Higher Education, and Educational Administration. The College of Education is also home to the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. For more information, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Matthew Benus, Graduate Students in Science Education,; Juan Diaz, Graduate Students in Science Education,; Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,