LPI Welcomes Urey Postdoctoral Fellow Matthew Weller
Field excursion in the Chilean Andes
Recently, LPI welcomed Dr. Matthew Weller as the new Urey Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Weller is interested in understanding the processes and physics that govern the dynamics and evolution of the deep interior and surface of planetary bodies. To date, his research has focused on the investigation of Olympus Mons on Mars, the evolution of the tectonic state of Earth and Venus, insolation driven convection and failure of the ice shells of the outer satellites, habitability potentials of non-plate tectonic planets, fundamental physics and dynamics of convective systems, and understanding processes that act to reinforce or prevent plate tectonics on planetary bodies.
Read LPI’s interview with Dr. Weller below to learn more.
LPI: How did you become interested in planetary science?
MW: I grew up learning geology with my mother, who was taking introductory geology classes for her degree program; watching Cosmos and Nova on PBS; and taking summer classes at the Museum of Natural History focused on early planetary missions (i.e., Voyager, Apollo, Pioneer, Venera, and Viking). These, along with a lifelong love affair with sci-fi, particularly Star Trek, cemented ‘space’ as a central theme in my life.
LPI: When did you know that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
MW: In college, I had a series of unexpected events that forced me to reevaluate what really interested me. My university did not offer a planetary science program or planetary research opportunities, but recalling my fascination with geology and astronomy, I began to pursue both geology and physics (with an astrophysics concentration) concurrently. I found research opportunities as an undergraduate intern at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and SETI. I pursued graduate programs in remote sensing and Earth Sciences to allow me to continue research in the planetary sciences.
Sedimentary geology field instruction in Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas
Field excursion in Turkey
LPI: What is the focus of your research?
MW: An area of interest for me is understanding why two similar planets, Earth and Venus, evolved so differently. Understanding the evolution of Venus can help us to understand the evolution of Earth, why plate tectonics can currently operate on one planet but not the other, and answer questions of habitability. Understanding how the sibling planets diverged ultimately helps us understand the propensity for Earth and Venus 2.0’s, and consequently life, throughout our galaxy.
LPI: What do you most look forward to as it relates to planetary science over the next 10 years?
MW: The next decade will be a renaissance of Venus science, with the arrival of the VERITAS orbiter mission in 2028, the DAVINCI probe in 2029, ESA’s EnVision orbiter in 2032, and the possible Indian Space Research Organization’s Shukrayaan-I probe mission at the end of the 2020s. We are on the precipice of answering some fundamental questions regarding the lost habitable world of Venus and discovering new questions that we never thought to ask before. This is truly an exciting and energizing time for planetary science!
LPI: Do you have a favorite hobby or interest outside of work?
MW: I love outdoor activities such as hiking with my dogs, swimming, and camping. I have recently been developing an interest in wine and winemaking, understanding how the terroir, the geology, can help shape and develop different flavors in otherwise similar grapes.
For more information, visit Dr. Matthew Weller.
Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey