LPI Welcomes New Postdoctoral Fellow Rachel Slank

February 14, 2023

Dr. slank in a labcoat working on some samples next to lab machinery

Dr. Slank working with the Ares Mars simulation chamber at the University of Arkansas. This chamber can simulate Mars-like conditions for atmosphere, pressure, and temperature. In this photo, she is placing a Mars regolith simulant mixed with a salt sample into the chamber to start an experiment.

LPI recently welcomed a new postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Rachel Slank. Dr. Rachel Slank received her Ph.D. in Space and Planetary Science from the University of Arkansas. She holds a variety of interests, including deliquescence and the stability of brines, the water cycle on Mars, volcanism, and planetary geology. During her time at the LPI, Dr. Slank will be working on two projects. The first project will be a chemical and mineralogical investigation of the igneous intrusions and metamorphosed sediments found in the San Rafael Swell on the Colorado Plateau. These numerous dikes, which intruded sulfur-rich sediments, may be an ideal Earth analog field site to Mars and may help active and future missions place constraints on potential habitability of igneous intrusions. The second project consists of modeling constraints of deliquescence on the martian surface. The model will consider a variety of factors including mixed salt types and an ice layer to help determine how long a brine can be stable on the surface of Mars.

Read LPI’s interview with Dr. Rachel Slank to learn more.

LPI: How did you become interested in planetary science?
RS: When I was in preschool, each month had a different theme. April was space month. We made paper astronaut helmets, hunted for “Moon rocks,” and took a field trip to the Neil Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. I was awe-inspired by him and decided on that field trip that I wanted to be an astronaut. I spent all my free time trying to learn as much as I could about space, the planets, and all the past astronauts. A few years later, I started really getting into rocks and geology. When I learned I could still be an astronaut and study rocks on other planets, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!

Dr. Rachel Slank and her husband, Austin, with their two dogs in the forest

Rachel with her husband, Austin, and their two dogs, Geo and Mya.

LPI: Did you have a mentor or another person in your life who was influential to your decision or career?
RS: I have had many mentors, advisors, and people supporting me over the years. I had teachers who didn’t judge the kid carrying around a solar system map and encouraged me to pursue my passions. I had professors who taught me the fundamentals of the science I use daily and supported me as I applied for internships and grad programs outside my comfort zone. I had a remarkable set of mentors, like Dr. Edgard Rivera-Valentín and Dr. Gail Arnold, who not only helped with my science but also taught me how to clearly communicate my science, both in writing and in presentations. I had great friends and an amazing partner who kept me sane during graduate school. I also had amazing parents who would go out in the middle of the night to star gaze or include rock hunting in our family vacations. They sent me to space camp and spent many weekends at museums and other space-related events. They always encouraged me to follow my dreams! I would not be the scientist I am today without all of these amazing people who have walked beside me every step of the way.

Rachel Slank standing by a poster of the InSight lander

Dr. Slank before her keynote talk at the Green Bank Observatory for the landing of InSight. She was later in the room and able to witness the detection of the landing, even before NASA was able to hear back from the lander.

LPI: What is the focus of your research?
RS: In a very broad sense, my main focus is water and potential habitability on Mars. This breaks down in many ways, including salts on Mars, analyzing spots on Earth that could have been similar to Mars in the past, and further understanding the martian water cycle. While this is my main research area right now, it is not the only thing I am interested in. There is a big place in my heart for lava tubes and their potential to host a safe place for astronauts while they are exploring the Moon or Mars. But honestly, I like rocks, and whether they are on Earth or other planetary bodies, I will happily study them!

LPI: What do you most look forward to as it relates to planetary science over the next 10 years?
RS: I would have to say the Artemis Program. Returning to the Moon is the next step in human exploration. I can’t wait to see how we, as the human race, progress from there!

LPI: What do you most look forward to as it relates to planetary science over the next 10 years?
RS: I would have to say the Artemis Program. Returning to the Moon is the next step in human exploration. I can’t wait to see how we, as the human race, progress from there!

LPI: What would be your dream research trip?
RS: That is a difficult question. I would say it is a toss-up between being able to study rocks on the surface of Mars or exploring a subsurface lava tube on the Moon. I have wanted to go to Mars since I was four years old. Combine that with my research focus and love for rocks; that trip just makes sense. However, I love caving, and while lava tubes aren’t technically caves, they are subsurface cavities. Exploring a place no one has ever seen (we don’t even have pictures) would be so exciting and the experience of a lifetime!

LPI: Do you have a favorite hobby or interest outside of work?
RS: I love crafting! It has always been a great stress reliever for me. I greatly enjoy knitting, jewelry making, resin work, scrapbooking, and woodworking. I have recently gotten into doing stained glass and cross-stitching. Every year I try to learn two new crafting styles or improved techniques.

For more information, visit Dr. Rachel Slank.

Rachel wearing a cardigan

Rachel posing in one of the cardigans she knitted. It has pockets!

For more information, visit Dr. Rachel Slank.

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