June 2017 Letter from the Director

Highlights in the department this June included a variety of outreach events and the beginning of “silly season” (I’ll explain below).  Diana Roman kicked the month off with her Capital Science lecture “When the Volcano Stirs” given to a packed house in Root Hall at P-Street.  Her lecture was a tour-de-force engagement of the audience through the use of humor and analogy to explain her detailed investigations of the plumbing and forces involved in generating dangerous volcanic eruptions.  Diana uses seismometers to detect the signals generated as magmas and gases move underground prepping the volcano for an eruption.  A recent novel aspect of her work involves the application of a variety of pattern recognition techniques including pitch-detection algorithms, perhaps most widely known as the mechanism by which SHAZAM figures out the name of the song you are listening to on the radio, to add a critical level of automated interrogation of the data returned from such studies in order to tease out repeating signals, in unbiased ways, that could be the key to improved success in volcanic eruption forecasting.  I encourage you all to watch her presentation that you can access simply by clicking on the “Play” button below..

Later in the month, our campus hosted laboratory tours for the DC Science Writers Association (DCSWA).  We had the honor of escorting 20 local science writers on tours of eight labs on the BBR campus that allowed the participants to get an often hands-on look at the type of studies done at BBR.  The event included the use of state-of-the-art analytical instruments ranging from the electron-probe and focused ion beam milling machine to the laser ablation ICP-MS to age date zircons, and the ion-probes for a variety of measurements of early Solar System materials.  Always popular on these tours is the opportunity to make “earthquakes” by jumping up and down on the floor in Lara Wagner’s demonstration of the advanced seismic instrumentation package that she and Diana Roman have developed.  The package miniaturizes the components needed for field deployment of seismometers so that they can be quickly deployed in often inaccessible, and occasionally hazardous, areas near active volcanoes, or efficiently in the large arrays needed for broader scale seismic tomographic imaging of Earth’s interior.

 On Saturday, June 17, 2017, members of the D.C. Science Writers Association (pictured here with Carnegie Institution for Science employees) toured our campus at Broad Branch Road (BBR). Photo by Robin Dienel, DTM.

During the DCSWA tour, Scott Sheppard described his work that is leading the path to the discovery of “Planet X”, the large, still undiscovered, planet that appears to be influencing the orbits of some objects in the Kuiper Belt.  Very little that moves in the outer Solar System escape Scott’s inspection.  In addition to finding a number of new Kuiper Belt objects, some of which add to the evidence that some large object is influencing orbits in this area, Scott and colleagues David Tholen (University of Hawai’i) and Chad Trujillo (Northern Arizona University) rediscovered five “lost” moons and discovered two never before observed moons orbiting Jupiter.  This brings the total of known moons orbiting Jupiter to 69.  The two newly discovered moons are only about a mile in diameter, which, in part, explains why they have not been observed previously.






For those of you who are fans of Formula 1 car racing, you will have recognized the opening reference to “silly season” as representing the time of the year when top drivers and team engineers are courted by other teams, leading eventually to the exchange of critical team members that keep the competition strong. DTM is currently going through something similar. This month, we had to say farewell to two of our postdocs, Myriam Telus and Nan Liu, and to Research Trainee, Maggie Thompson. Myriam and Maggie are both going to UC Santa Cruz, Myriam as an assistant professor in their Earth and planetary science department (the third BBR alumni to join this department) and Maggie is starting a Ph.D. in astronomy. Nan is off to Princeton University. In “trade”, DTM will soon be joined by new postdoctoral fellows from Oxford, LISA France, Lamont, the University of Michigan, and the Australian National University. We also will welcome three fellows supported by prestigious national fellowships – Meredith MacGregor and Kathleen McKee as National Science Foundation (NSF) fellows, and our original Origins fellow, Johanna Teske, will be returning as a Hubble Fellow.

Terry Stahl at his desk. Photo courtesy of Janice Dunlap, DTM.

This type of turnover in our early career scientists is expected and serves to bring new ideas, expertise, and ways of thinking into the department. This month, however, we also will be saying goodbye to two of our treasured support staff.  Fiscal Officer Terry Stahl, who started as an accountant at P-Street in 1973 and moved to DTM in 1978, will be retiring this month after providing a total of 44 years of exemplary service to the institution.  As any of our alumni can attest to, Terry ran the DTM and BBR business office in a way that ensured the integrity of the “business” of DTM, but also provided absolutely the minimal impediment to carrying out the research mission of the department.  As at least some of you can recount, when Terry comes to you with the “Can you explain this charge?” question, you better have a good answer!  Terry not only managed the finances of the department but also kept the accounts for several large grants to the department, most recently the NASA grant for the MESSENGER mission to Mercury.  Terry’s position will be filled by Wan Kim who has been serving as the fiscal assistant in the DTM business office since 2009.  We wish Terry the best in his retirement and thank him for a career’s worth of business office management that allowed the department to pursue its research in the most efficient and effective ways possible. 

This newsletter will be the last prepared by our webmaster and outreach coordinator, Robin Dienel.  Robin was hired in 2013.  Her job title barely touches on all that she has contributed to the department, from maintaining the department website, preparing our monthly newsletter and the postdoc spotlight interviews, creating a number of web pages for staff and postdocs, running the DTM social media presence, managing the ticketing and registration process for our Neighborhood Lectures, and helping out in many ways in various events at both BBR and P-Street.  Somehow, in the background of all these contributions to DTM, she managed to find the time to attend classes at American University where she obtained a Masters degree in Interactive Journalism in 2016.  Robin brought to the job not only mastery of the various web and social media platforms, but a talent for translating our science achievements into text that can be understood by a broad audience, and an artistic sensibility that so greatly enhanced the appearance of our various outreach products.  Robin is originally from the Boston area.  Though we tried repeatedly, we could not dissuade her from wanting to return to Boston to be closer to her family.  We thank Robin for all her contributions to the department and for performing her job in such a pleasant and productive way.  Our best wishes go out to her for all her future endeavors.

Richard Carlson, Director, DTM
Carnegie Institution for Science
June 2017 Newsletter

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