LPI Welcomes New Postdoctoral Fellow Aditi Pandey
July 20, 2023
We are excited to introduce our newest team member, Dr. Aditi Pandey, who has joined LPI as a postdoctoral fellow. With a background in analytical chemistry, material science, and geochemistry, Dr. Pandey's research focuses on the study of Mars analog and simulant materials. She earned her Ph.D. in Soil Chemistry from Texas A&M University and worked alongside the Mars group from the Astromaterials Research and Exploration (ARES) division at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) during her doctoral studies. Her research with the Mars group involved developing methods to characterize short-range ordered non-crystalline and nano-crystalline materials relevant to Mars, using synchrotron-based X-ray and electron spectro-microscopic techniques. Dr. Pandey's work has contributed significantly to the field, including the development of chemical extraction procedures for quantifying short-range ordered materials from heterogeneous samples and the characterization of nano-scale atomic structures using synchrotron-based X-ray absorption analysis.
LPI: How did you become interested in planetary science?
AP: After completing my undergraduate degree in organic chemistry, I sought inspiration for fields that would enable me to apply my newly acquired research skills. Soil chemistry piqued my interest as it provided more direct application opportunities compared to my theory-heavy degree in pure sciences.
I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in several soil science research groups, including those focused on agriculture, civil engineering, and planetary sciences. When I discovered the Mars group at ARES, it was an easy decision to shift my focus to planetary science research. The Mars core team at JSC was warm, approachable, and incredibly supportive. My mentors were excited about my capabilities as an analytical chemist and shared multiple projects with me to pursue as part of my Ph.D. studies. Over the years, I have been mentored by distinguished industry experts and have gradually found my place within this research group since 2018.
LPI: When did you know that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
AP: I felt validated in my decision to pursue planetary sciences after receiving positive feedback on the first set of data I presented to the Mars group. As an early-career scientist with a multidisciplinary background, I often feel like an imposter among specialists who have dedicated their entire careers to a single research field. However, the Mars group's supportive response showed me that my diverse background could bring fresh perspectives and solutions to research problems within the geochemical sciences. This experience solidified my conviction to pursue a career in this field.
LPI: Did you have a mentor or another person in your life who was influential to your decision or career?
AP: In my application to LPI, I shared my belief that the strength of the people around me makes me strong. Throughout my Ph.D. journey, I have been fortunate to have inspiring mentors who have shaped my decisions and led me to my current career path. My Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Paul Schwab, recognized my potential and introduced me to the Mars group. Dr. Douglas Ming then took me under his wing and helped me find a research niche that benefited the group and allowed me to develop my skills. I was inspired by the groundbreaking work of Drs. Ming and Sutter, who were both soil scientists pursuing planetary sciences. Additionally, I was fortunate to have powerful female scientists like my current boss, Dr. Elizabeth Rampe, who supported me in finding my place in the industry.
In the initial phase of her doctoral studies, Dr. Pandey teamed up with Drs. Ming and Sutter from ARES' Mars group to create research plans for studying X-ray amorphous materials in analog samples.
LPI: What is the focus of your research?
AP: As a postdoctoral researcher, I have maintained my interdisciplinary approach to research. Specifically, I utilize my expertise in chemical analysis to create and study sulfate minerals relevant to Mars. My current focus is on exploring the impact of various factors, such as temperature, climate, and time on the stability, composition, and crystallinity of these minerals. Our team believes that the sulfate structures can provide valuable insights into the environmental changes that occurred during the transition from circum-neutral pH in the Noachian era to acidic and water-limited conditions in the Hesperian era.
LPI: What is the most unexpected or exciting result that you’ve encountered in your research?
AP: One of the most surprising findings I've come across is the intricate nature of the nano-analytical realm. It's fascinating to see the vast heterogeneity present in these materials at such a small scale, yet they exhibit similar macro-scale properties and functions within soil systems.
LPI: What do you most look forward to as it relates to planetary science over the next 10 years?
AP: As a researcher, I am passionate about discovering evidence of early life on Mars. Although my current focus is on inorganic chemistry, I still value my undergraduate training in organic chemistry. I strongly believe our efforts will be rewarded when we finally discover preserved organic matter on the red planet. This would be a great scenario for me as it would allow me to delve deeper into the interaction of preserved organics with Mars minerals. I am excited to utilize my skills in synchrotron-based X-ray absorption analysis to study the presence of carbon in conjunction with other common mineral elements such as silicon, iron, and magnesium on Mars.
LPI: What would be your dream research trip?
AP: If I were to plan my ideal research expedition, it would entail exploring a Mars-like terrain nestled in the Himalayas of Nepal. I am convinced that there are numerous unexplored and pristine areas in the Himalayas that possess intriguing and pertinent geological structures. I aspire to someday conduct research in some of these locations and disseminate my findings to the scientific community.
PI: Do you have a favorite hobby or interest outside of work?
AP: I enjoy hiking and do so frequently with my dogs, usually covering 2.5 to 5 miles per day. Additionally, I have a passion for cooking fusion dishes that incorporate flavors from my Nepalese culture and Western cuisines. Cooking for others brings me immense joy, much like my grandmother, who instilled this value in me. It is a delight to watch people enjoy my food.