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Prof. Dr. Jesús Martinez-Frias, Senior Scientist at Instituto de Geociencias and Professor “Ad Honorem” at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, has an impressive professional career. He has participated in numerous scientific projects (e.g. IGCP, NASA, ESA, NATO) and combines his expertise on Planetary Geology and Astrobiology with aspects on Geoscience Education and Geoethics. Here he gives us some insights into his work – also for the Spanish Network of Planetology and Astrobiology (REDESPA).
ÖWF: Prof. Martinez-Frias, you are the founder of the Spanish Network of Planetology and Astrobiology (REDESPA). What is your part within the organization?
Yes, I was the founder of the Spanish Planetology and Astrobiology Network (REDESPA). As director of REDESPA, I am leading its scientific, academic and public outreach structure, developing and promoting its activities and creating synergies with all institutitons, groups, associations, societies, etc., which are interested on Planetology and Astrobiology.
ÖWF: Why are you working for REDESPA?
I am a Senior Scientist of the Spanish Higher Research Council (Spanish CSIC: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) and Professor Ad Honorem of the Polytechnic University of Madrid. My activity in REDESPA is totally voluntary, although I think that our network represents an excellent and extremely useful initiative and tool, which facilitates my work and other’s work, fostering personal and institutional interactions and promoting new ideas and projects. I am happy to state that the establishing of REDESPA was collected and published in the websites of the NASA Astrobiology program, EANA, COSPAR and AstroMap, among others.
ÖWF: What are current projects of REDESPA? Could you tell us something about the projects, please?
During the last year, we have developed around 50 diverse activities, which include scientific and public outreach talks, seminars, round tables, etc. Probably, our three most important projects and initiatives are:
a) the sucessful organization of the first online course on Planetology and Astrobiology (with 107 registered students, 3 modules, 18 thematic units and 8 teachers);
b) the setting up of the Virtual Astrobiology Library (VAL), and
c) the establishing of the I Spanish Prize on Planetology and Astrobiology (comprising a Plaque for the first Prize and a Honorable Mention for the second one). Some days ago, we have just launched (in collaboration with the Spanish Professional Association of Geologists and the Dinopolis Foundation), a new educational activity: the online course on Natural Catastrophes and Extinction Events.
ÖWF: You are working for the Instituto de Geociencias. What is your area of expertise?
The Instituto de Geociencias, IGEO is a joint institution of the CSIC and the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). It was established on January 18th, 2011 aiming unification of research groups in Earth and Planetary Sciences at a single institution in Madrid. IGEO brings together research groups from other joint institutes, such as the Institute of Astronomy and Geodesy, Institute of Economic Geology and and other groups from the Department of Geology and Volcanology of the National Museum of Natural Sciences, together with scientific and academic staff from the Faculty of Geological Sciences, Physics and Mathematics at the UCM. I joined IGEO in 2013 coming from the Centro de Astrobiología (Madrid), where I was chairing the Department of Planetology and Habitability. My areas of expertise are Planetary Geology and Astrobiology and, at IGEO, I am currently leading the research group on Meteorites and Planetary Geosciences. This includes:
a) the study of meteorites and impact events;
b) my participation in planetary missions (e.g. Mars missions), and
c) the study of extreme environments as potential terrestrial analogs (Antarctica, Iceland, Mauritania, Costa Rica) and, of course, Spain.
Our country has a great and significant geodiversity (e.g. areas of Río Tinto, Jaroso, Canary Islands, Gulf of Cádiz).
ÖWF: What are your duties as a science team member of the NASA-Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)?
Basically, the main scientific goals of MSL comprise: the study of Martian climate and geology, the search for water, and to find out whether Mars could have ever supported life, and this is carried out with the most advanced and amazing scientific equipment ever used on the surface of Mars. Participating as a planetary geologist in the NASA-Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) mission is a real privilege, and a honor, and I try to provide my backgroung and expertise to assist in accomplishing such goals. I would like to add the privilege of learning from my colleagues.
ÖWF: You were supervisor of 13 PhD and Master theses and two final degree projects about the construction of a semi-permanent lunar base. Have your students ever surprised you with e. g. unexpected ideas/solutions?
If I highlighted before the significance of learning from other colleagues, I also appreciate and enjoy the contact with students. Their excitement and enthusiasm are crucial, and it is important to value their fresh ideas, although in some ocassions they could appear unusual.
I am currently co-supervising with Prof. Aberra Mogessie (Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Graz), the Master thesis of the student Melina Gamsjäger. It is entitled: A new study of sub aerial alteration and hydrothermal processes in Tenerife Mars Analog. It is being carried out in the context of the science related to the future ESA-ExoMars mission).
ÖWF: Which dreams do you have from a geological perspective?
I would say that participating in the Curiosity rover mission is a dream made true for any earth and planetary scientist. Besides, other projects and missions are coming (e.g. ExoMars, Mars2020). Planetary geology and astrobiology are being essential to understand the planetary environments and their habitability conditions. This gives us the keys for the search for extraterrestrial life and for paving the way for future human settlements on the Moon, Mars and beyond…, dreams which also require an ethical approach.
ÖWF: Thank you so much for your time, Prof. Martinez-Frias!
The interview was conducted by Marlen Raab, OeWF editorial team.
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