People

Dr. Melissa Rice – Associate Professor

Dr. Melissa Rice is an Associate Professor of Planetary Science at Western Washington University, where she has held a joint appointment in the Geology Department and the Physics & Astronomy Department since 2014. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University in 2012, and was a NASA Astrobiology Institute Postdoctoral fellow at Caltech from 2012-2014. Her research focuses on the sedimentology, stratigraphy and mineralogy of Mars. She is a collaborator on the active Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity missions, a Participating Scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory rover mission, and a Co-Investigator for the Mastcam-Z investigation in development for the Mars2020 rover mission. When she’s not exploring Mars, she enjoys traveling and exploring the best planet in the solar system: Earth!

Jess Mollerup – Undergraduate Student

Jess is an undergraduate physics research student with an interdisciplinary background spanning astronomy, chemistry, geology, and computer science. She uses reflectance spectroscopy to characterize the spectral features and composition of Mars analogue rocks. For her future research she is interested in using remote sensing to study the icy planetary bodies in the outer solar system. Outside of the lab, she is passionate about science communication and working to build inclusive and equitable spaces in STEM for underrepresented and marginalized students.


Kristiana Lapo – Graduate Student

Kristiana is a geology graduate student at WWU and a Mars Lab member since Spring 2019. Her experience includes remote mapping, field work, and glacial geomorphology. Her thesis takes a completely different direction as she examines the spectral properties of Mars-relevant materials using hardware and software built by Mars Lab graduate Kathleen Hoza. She is also part of the team calibrating Mastcam-Z, the multi-spectral imager mounted on the yet unnamed Mars rover set to launch in 2020. Outside of her academics at Western, Kristiana enjoys working in an upper elementary Montessori classroom part-time, where she works one on one with students and helps design science curriculums for her class. In her free time, Kristiana appreciates gardening, enjoying live music, and cooking food for her friends.


Cory Hughes – Graduate Student

Cory is a graduate student working on characterizing the spectroscopy and sedimentology of the magnificent Eberswalde Crater deposit. He received his B.Sc. in Geology from UT Austin, where he worked on numerous research projects related to martian and terrestrial sedimentary processes. When not focused on coursework or research, Cory enjoys hiking in the Cascades, playing/watching hockey, and joining his friends from across the continent online for some multiplayer video gaming.


Tina Seeger – Graduate Student

Tina Seeger is a first-year graduate student studying geology at Western Washington University, where she uses the Curiosity rover’s Mastcam instrument to investigate compositional differences between rock types. She joined the Curiosity team after completing a BA in Geosciences and Astronomy at Williams College, and quickly fell in love with using space robots to study her favorite subject: space rocks. When she’s not on shift to help drive Curiosity, she works on the Mars 2020 team as a student collaborator for the Mastcam-Z instrument to prepare for the next rover’s adventures. She occasionally steps away from robotically climbing Mount Sharp to climb Washington’s spectacular volcanoes, and shares her love of space as the astronomy program’s Dark Ranger at Mount Rainier National Park.


Former Students

Kathleen Hoza – M.S. Geology 2019, now at First Mode

Kathleen is a graduate student working with the WWU Mars Group since summer of 2017. She has experience working with the Curiosity rover from engineering internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and she transitioned to the science side of the project at Western. Kathleen also likes rock climbing, and she is excited to learn more about rocks than how to fall off of them.

Mason Starr – B.S. Physics 2019

Mason worked with the Mars group since Fall of 2016. He was a member of the WWU Men’s Crew team, and coaches a middle school rowing team during the summer. One day, Mason hopes to be a part of the team that puts a human on Mars.

Darian Dixon – M.S. Geology 2018, now at Malin Space Science Systems

Darian Dixon received his master’s degree in geology in 2018. Darian began his graduate career at WWU during the summer of 2015 shortly after completing his B.S. in geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. By studying the spectral capabilities of the Mastcam-Z instrument for the Mars 2020 rover, Darian contributed to the decision making process for selecting the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and future multispectral investigation of the surface after the rover lands. He has a passion for STEM outreach and regularly speaks at middle schools in his area. He plans to expand these talks and build a website to serve as an online training tool to teach university students how to do similar outreach work at schools.

Adam Hudak – B.S. Geology 2018

Adam has a passion for astrogeology, geochemistry, and use of the latest technology for the advancement of environmental science; including planetary remote sensing, and GIS. His other interests include humans as geomorphic agents and geohazard prevention. Adam’s sedimentology research in Orkney, Scotland was recognized by the Western Washington Board of Trustees in 2017 where he studied coastal morphology, sediment transport, stratigraphy, and disaster mitigation for cultural heritage sites at risk of coastal erosion.

Natalie Moore – B.S. Geophysics 2018

Natalie was a Geophysics major with minors in Astronomy and Math. She began working with the WWU Mars Group in the spring of 2017. When Natalie isn’t learning about Mars she is either producing the Spark Science radio podcast or going on adventures with her dog, BB. After graduation, Natalie wants to work in fields related to planetary science and spaceflight and eventually go to space with BB.

Amanda Rudolph – B.S. Geology 2018, now pursuing a Ph.D. at Purdue University

Amanda was a Geology major and worked with the WWU Mars Group since Spring 2017. In addition to her work at WWU, she performed research for an internship at the Lunar and Planetary Institute and Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX studying aqueous alteration of clays on Mars. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in planetary science at Purdue University.

Katherine Winchell – B.S. Geology 2017, now at Malin Space Science Systems

Katherine worked with the WWU Mars Lab from 2014-17. Her work primarily concerned spectroscopy of Martian and Mars-analogue soils, and she has presented on her work at the Lunar and Planetary Science conference in 2017, as well as Western’s Scholar’s week in 2016 and 2017, and the Geological Society of American in 2017. She has also attended a Mastcam-Z and Landing Site Workshop with Dr. Rice, and helped with the organization of the Mastcam-Z team meeting that WWU hosted in the summer of 2016. Katherine was also part of Western’s fencing team and several on campus STEM clubs. Outside of Western, Katherine was very involved with the Rebel Legion, a Lucasfilm affiliated organization that provides costumed Star Wars characters to community and charity events. Katherine enjoys using her scientific reasoning skills to think outside the box to come up with new ways to replicate the costumes and props we see in the Star Wars movies while keeping a much more limited budget a need for longevity of the pieces in mind. Katherine now works at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, CA, where she does camera operations for the Curiosity Mars Rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Jack Boyd – B.S. Geophysics 2017

Jack worked with the Mars Lab from Spring 2016 – Fall 2017. After graduation, he plans to look for work at a geotechnical company and eventually apply to graduate programs in planetary science. Jack loves to camp and play guitar whenever the opportunity arises!