Reaching for the stars

A PhD student at our University has been recognised internationally for her research into life on Mars. Berivan Esen is amongst the 30 women around the world who have been awarded the prestigious Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship for 2018-19.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. The Amelia Earhart Fellowship was established in 1938 in honour of famed pilot and Zontian, Amelia Earhart, and aims to assist the future opportunities for women working in aerospace related sciences. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Fellowship, of $10,000 USD, is awarded annually to around 30 talented women across the globe who demonstrate a superior academic record in aerospace-related sciences or aerospace-related engineering and are pursuing Ph.D./doctoral degrees in the field.

Berivan, a CENTA PhD student located in the University’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, is investigating the influence of mineralogy on the detection of organic matter and chemical signatures of life on Mars. The research combines laboratory measurements simulating Martian samples and fieldwork to Mars analogue sites like the Mojave Desert in California. This PhD will inform the acquisition and interpretation of data for the upcoming European Mars mission, ExoMars, subsequent Mars missions and the re-analysis of past missions.

Berivan is supervised by Dr Andrew Carr and Dr Arnoud Boom from the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment and Dr Ian Hutchinson from the Space Research Centre.

Berivan said: “I am honoured to be a recipient of the Amelia Earhart (AE) Fellowship. It is a great privilege and a tremendous opportunity. I find it inspiring to reflect on how one woman with courage and conviction to pursue her professional ambitions can overcome gender and social norms and, as a result, positively impact the lives of thousands for decades to come.

“The work of Zonta International in tackling gender inequality and creating greater economic freedoms for women is highly commendable and much needed. In joining the AE Fellowship community, I am excited to amplify these efforts so others may benefit.

“I would like to thank my supervisors for their continued support as I carry out my research. I would also like to say a special thank you to Dr Andrew Carr, Dr Mick Whelan and Anni-Rowland Campbell from the Intersticia Foundation for supporting my application.”

Dr Andrew Carr added: “It is a great pleasure to supervise Berivan, and we are very pleased for her success with the Amelia Earhart Fellowship. Berivan is developing an exciting research project that really pushes our abilities to detect the signs of life in extreme environments. Such work is relevant both to Mars research and our understanding of the true limits of life on Earth.”