March is Women’s History Month. Throughout the month we’ll be profiling D.C. based women you should know. Amy Morse, the founder of Ideas Club, is heading the project. Today she profiles Mary Voytek. -ed.
Mary approaches science with curiosity and wonder. Her research explores deep questions such as the evolution of life in the universe. Through her post in the Astrobiology department at NASA, she investigates “habitable worlds,” ways to search for life beyond Earth, and of course – Mars! When Mary isn’t exploring extreme environments on earth, testifying before congressional committees, she is likely thinking about outer space – wayyyy outer space. She has the dream job of any sci-fi writer, Mulder wannabe, or human being that has ever gazed at the stars and spent more than 5 seconds pondering the extraterrestrial. She directs the Astrobiology Program at NASA and has implemented a cross-divisional science initiative called NExSS, the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science. NExSS brings together planetary scientists, astronomers, astrophysicists, heliophysicists, biologists, biogeochemistry, and Earth scientists to work together to understand exoplanets as systems and to explore exoplanets as potentially habitable and inhabited worlds outside our solar system (which makes Elysium look local yokel).
If you are wondering what Astrobiology is, check out Mary’s cool graphic novel, Astrobiology: The Story of Our Search for Life in the Universe.
Her curiosity, leadership and prolific publishing, have prompted her to start some badass work at NASA. She considers herself a “science activist.” She wants to change how science is done and believes that the most important science questions will be answered through multidisciplinary collaborations and inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches. Mary finds that women’s approaches to problem solving are especially conducive to this type of collaboration. Mary is passionate about science communication, and in addition to her contributions to rad graphic novels, she supports FameLab USA, an international science communication training and competition program for early-career researchers. She is also giving back to her community with research on the Chesapeake Bay.
Women Who Inspire Mary
Three women in history who have greatly inspired her – Rachel Carson (similar to Mary, Rachel wrote and recorded creative communications to stir interest in science and researched the Chesapeake Bay), Eleanor Roosevelt and Beryl Markham. They were all strong women of conviction who were true to themselves and followed their principles and goals, despite any barriers raised because they were women.
- Many science organizations provide opportunities for women to get involved in science education, career development, mentoring, and advocacy for science programs, diversity in the sciences, and science literacy – like the American Geophysical Union (the president, executive director, and five-eighths of the board of AGU are women), the American Astronomical Society (has a female president and a Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy), and the American Society for Microbiology (which also has a committee on the status of women in the field).
- I F#!&$ing Love Science – Elise Andrews started the Facebook page to share her passion for science when she was a 22-year-old college student studying biology – with no experience in journalism.
- xkcd.com – A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. Mary recommends nurturing and maintaining our sense of humor and wonder.
- NASA’s Astrobiology Program – Simply fascinating! More graphic novels too.