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Teaching greatly enhances your ability to do research, I think, because it makes you think about topics that are well outside of your research area, and therefore you get new ideas on how to combine what you are doing with other things people are doing.
My classes stay very current. When you’re teaching planetary science, the data come in almost as fast as you can tell the students about it, especially Mars and Saturn right now, so I’m always keeping up to date with what those missions are doing, what their big science results are, and passing that onto my students. It makes me a much better researcher, to be able to teach.
Plus, I always pick out the most motivated students and usually offer them a job in my lab, so I get undergraduates into the laboratory setting, and they get a lot of great work done. Dani Della-Giustina is doing an incredible study on using asteroids to protect humans on their way to Mars. She just won a nine thousand dollar NASA prize for that concept.
So I tap the undergraduate workforce as much as I can. They’re relatively cheap labor, and they’re really motivated, and they’re really bright kids. We’ve got some really smart people at this university, and I try to find them. I usually get one or two students to switch over to a science major from a NATS class every semester.
Picking out those bright undergraduate students and really turning them on to planetary science and seeing the light in their eyes when they get excited about a project is really a cool feeling.
We have a lot of visitors who think they might have a meteorite. I had one fellow waiting for me before I came in the door one morning, and he had 60 rocks. Sixty! I went through each and every one. But I used it as an educational experience and he was very appreciative, and after that session he knew what not to pick up.
I don’t normally get that many all in one bunch, but that has been something that’s a very pleasant part of my job, very gratifying. I’ve met so many wonderful people that way, and some of them do come back with real meteorites. It’s really a wonderful public service that I enjoy. People in Tucson are so excited about planetary science. It’s wonderful. They really appreciate all the things we do here. It’s fun to be able to share it with them.
When I first got here, everybody was on this side of the [Kuiper] Building. This is the old side of the building. The atrium and the lecture halls and the catwalk in the back and all of that—when I first came, that had been built but it hadn’t been occupied yet. It actually still had plastic; you couldn’t go through.
I shared an office with Ann Sprague for about three months or so, and then we all moved over there to the new side of the building. That happened in ’93. Then we got the Sonett Building, and then there’s the Phoenix Building. So now we have three buildings and the number of employees has gone way up. It’s a much bigger operation that when I first came. In that sense, the lab has evolved.
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Department of Planetary Sciences
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
1629 E. University Blvd.
Tucson AZ 85721
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