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Meet: Bruce Jakosky

Interdisciplinary Scientist
University of Colorado, Boulder


Who I Am

I am a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I do research in planetary science and teach courses in planetary science and geology. It's really a fun job. I always get to do something new and interesting, whether it's finding out something about Mars or learning to understand the Earth better. One of the things I've discovered is that, even though everybody can enjoy the scenery in the mountains or at the beach, it's so much more fun when you can understand how they formed.

I'm also an investigator on the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft mission, which gets to Mars in September 1997. Although I didn't build any of the instruments, my role as an "interdisciplinary scientist" is to look at data from all of the instruments and to make sure that none of the exciting science falls through the cracks. I get to take the broader view of Mars science, rather than focusing on a single instrument. So far, all I've been doing is going to endless meetings and talking with the other scientists about what the interesting data will be. When we get to Mars, though, I'll get to look at the most interesting problems.

How I Got Here

I got into planetary science as an undergraduate at UCLA. There, I was lucky enough to become involved with one of the experimenters on the Viking missions that went to Mars in 1976. Although my first planetary interest was on the insides of the planets, over the years I got interested in those things that touch the inside--things like the surface and the atmosphere, and how they've changed through time.

One of the exciting things that I've been working on recently is the possibility of there being life on Mars. Although you always see stuff about life on other planets in the movies and on TV (shows like "Star Trek," the "X-Files" and so on), they always talk about human-like beings that are intelligent and who we can talk to. Really, we're looking for things like bacteria, the simplest possible life forms. And, the possibility that there might be life there is exciting! Just think what it would mean to know that life on Earth wasn't the only life in the universe! Everywhere I go, people ask me whether there is life on Mars or on other planets, and about whether there might be intelligent life on planets around other stars.

My interest in studying the planets goes back to when I was in junior high and high school. There, I took all of the math and science classes because they seemed to be the most fun. I got a small telescope when I was in junior high, and would spend a couple of nights a week outside, looking at the planets and the stars. When I got to college, I discovered that you could begin to understand how these objects "worked" by applying basic concepts in physics. My college courses were mostly in physics, with some geology, geophysics and planetary science courses. The most exciting thing I did in college was getting involved in the Viking mission. It was one of the highlights in my life to be there watching the first pictures being radioed back from the surface of Mars!

I went to graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, where I applied some of this physics to understanding the surface and atmosphere of Mars. I feel that I really learned how to think there, rather than just repeating what somebody else had done (like when you do homework problems); that meant that I could begin to do and learn things that nobody else had ever done!

I've been in Colorado since 1982, where most of my research has been on the atmosphere and climate of Mars. And, most recently, on the possibility of life on Mars. The most exciting thing about what I do is learning things about Mars or about the universe that nobody else has figured out before. Even though they haven't been major discoveries, I feel that I'm contributing to advancing our knowledge about the world around us. Like every job, mine can be boring at times, too. Writing reports and filling out forms gets old real fast, for instance. But, the exciting parts more than make up for it. I have fun at what I do, and that's the most important thing.

A Little Bit More About Me

I grew up in west Los Angeles, and lived in the L.A. area until I finished school. I live in Colorado now, in a small town (Boulder). I really like it here--there's so much less traffic and noise and pollution. I'm married, and my wife is just finishing up her degree at the university here; we don't have any children.

I don't have any unusual hobbies, but I do like to read (all kinds of things--the newspaper, fiction books, history books) and watch TV. I think that I must be the only person in Boulder who doesn't ski at all. I enjoy visiting with my friends, and I feel lucky because many of my best friends work in the same field as me and I get to see them regularly. I also like to travel, especially to fun vacation spots like Hawaii. I think I might like to live near the water some day, and get a boat.


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