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Meet: Joy Crisp

Mars Exploration Rover Project Scientist
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Image of Joy Crips on a field excursion

Who I Am
I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and grew up there. I was interested in science as a kid (photo from a science fair project), but math, English, and literature were actually my favorite topics in high school. I was a devoted bookworm, and loved spending time in libraries and reading.

After high school, I went to Carleton College in Minnesota for four years where I studied very hard. At first, I thought I was going to be a math major, but in my second year of college, I happened to take an introductory geology class and I found it more interesting, challenging, and fun. There was wonderful camaraderie among the students in the geology department and I had a lot of fun on the fall and spring field trips. I continued to take a lot of math classes, but in the end, I got a bachelor's degree in geology.

Image of Joy as a girl in a laboratoryAfter that, I went to Princeton University, and got a master's degree and PhD in geology. I did my PhD research project on some volcanic deposits in the Canary Islands. I spent three separate one-month field seasons there, collecting rocks and bringing them back to the university each time, to carry out more detailed studies. The scenery in the Canaries is spectacular, but the compositionally zoned ash flow eruption deposits and rock textures are equally stunning. On Gran Canaria, magma chambers erupted over and over, refilling and partially crystallizing each time. Geochemical and mineralogical examination of the rocks I collected revealed answers to some aspects of the magma chamber processes.

After graduating from Princeton in 1984, I began my career as a scientist. I held a postdoctoral research science position at the University of California Los Angeles for two and a half years, doing research on volcanic rocks and minerals. At UCLA, I ran experiments "cooking" rocks at high temperatures and pressures until they melted and recrystallized, to better understand the pressure and temperature stability conditions for some of the minerals in the Canary Island magmas. The techniques of "experimental petrology" were valuable for me to learn, but it called for great doses of patience and good plumber's skills (fixing valves and leaks and soldering shut little metal capsules filled with rock powder).

Ever since then, I have been working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. At JPL, I have worked on several different projects. For the Mars Pathfinder mission, I was the Assistant Rover Scientist and the Investigation Scientist for an instrument that was carried on the Sojourner rover, called the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer. This instrument was used to determine the abundance of elements that make up the rocks and soil on Mars. Another project I worked on at JPL was a study of volcanoes from NASA's earth-looking satellite instruments, using infrared observations of volcanic eruption clouds. The objective of this study was to develop methods of detection and measurement of volcanic gases, ash, and sulfuric acid droplets from satellite, to better understand how these components change as a volcanic cloud drifts away from a volcano. I have also done research on the physics of how lava flows cool, crystallize, and flow on the Earth and Mars. This work involved development of physics models, checking the models using measurements of Hawaiian lava flows, and estimating how those lavas would behave on Mars, where gravity is one third that on Earth.

What I do
Image of JoyIn my current job at JPL, as Mars Exploration Rover Project Scientist, I'm responsible for the maintaining the science integrity of the mission, keeping project team members informed about the science plans and issues, and acting as a science spokesperson for the Project. I do my best to keep track of the design, development and planning by the engineers, focusing on the aspects that have the biggest effect on maximizing the science return and legacy for the science community. My workdays vary, but usually I spend a lot of time interacting with scientists and engineers on the project, and keeping up with project plans. Some of the more interesting meetings I attend focus on the details of rover science experiments, data analysis of the landing sites to assess their safety and science quality, or preparation for the large team of scientists who will participate in mission operations at JPL. Occasionally, engineers come to me with questions about what kind of rocks or soils we expect to find on Mars, and we either end up having trucks deliver representative samples for rover or airbag testing (see the rocks behind me in the photo!) or we select nearby sites in the desert for testing. It's very exciting is seeing the mission develop before my eyes from scratch-pad concept, to requirements lists, to computer drawings, to preliminary hardware and software models, to final hardware and software, to testing, launch, and actual operations on Mars. The work will seem all worth it in the end, when the science team is operating the rovers on Mars and we're learning new things about how the rocks on Mars formed.

The volcanoes, volcanic rocks, and the mineralogy of the surface materials are the things about Mars that interest me the most. It's a great big fun puzzle, requiring detective skills that take advantage of lessons learned from the geology of the Earth, physics and chemistry models that we develop and test on the Earth, and observations and measurements of Mars itself.

Free time!
My favorite hobby is reading books, especially science fiction and fiction. My husband is also a scientist at JPL, a specialist in planetary atmospheres, including the Earth's atmosphere. We enjoy travel, especially to the Caribbean and Italy.


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