Maureen Palmer Receives 2018 Carson Fellowship

The Lt. Col. Kenneth Rondo Carson and Virginia Bryan Carson Graduate Fellowship is an endowment established by the estate of Virginia B. Carson, honoring her husband, a former member of the "Flying Tigers," a former member of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff Strategic Air Command, retired master navigator and enthusiast of space exploration. Colonel Carson greatly admired the professionalism and accomplishments of NASA's space program. The Carson Fellowship is awarded to students pursuing degrees in the Department of Planetary Sciences, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, selected on the basis of academic achievement and the promise of further scholarly endeavor.

2018 Carson Fellowship Awarded to Maureen Palmer

Maureen Palmer is the recipient of the 2018 Carson Fellowship Award, which provides one academic year of support, including salary, tuition, and a supply stipend. Maureen is a first-year graduate student at LPL.  

Maureen grew up in Shoreview, Minnesota. Her interest in a scientific research career was ignited by her experience competing on Mounds View High School’s Science Olympiad team. Maureen attended St. Olaf College from 2012 to 2016 and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. She had the opportunity to participate in a variety of research experiences, including ecology projects (in St. Olaf’s Natural Lands and in Tamil Nadu, India) and organic chemistry lab research. She competed on St. Olaf’s Parliamentary Debate team and, in addition to science, took a significant amount of coursework in philosophy.

Maureen first became interested in space sciences after reading The Eerie Silence (a book about astrobiology, which she recommends to everyone). This book explores astrobiology concepts such as estimating the chances of life on other planets and the possibility of a “shadow biosphere,” chemically distinct from our type of life, on Earth. After reading this book, Maureen was inspired to pursue academic research in astrobiology. She spent two summers working as an Undergraduate Research Associate in Astrobiology at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. There, she worked with Dr. Martin Cordiner using Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-mm Array (ALMA) calibration data to detect and study new molecules in Titan’s atmosphere. After graduating from college, Maureen returned to Goddard for two years, continuing to use ALMA data to study Titan’s atmosphere and cometary comae. In her spare time, she also volunteered as an astronomy educator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s public observatory.

Maureen’s detection in Titan’s atmosphere of vinyl cyanide (C2H3CN), which had been suggested as a possible component of cell-like membranes in Titan’s lakes, was published in July 2017 in Science Advances. She also worked on developing a new technique to analyze existing ALMA datasets, treating the ALMA array as a collection of single-dish telescopes, which improves its sensitivity to large-angular-scale objects like comets. In addition, she has been developing methods for systematically utilizing the wealth of data available in the ALMA Science Archive.

Maureen looks forward to continuing observational study of astrobiologically-interesting icy moons.