A planetary scientist, Arya Udry says she finds it fascinating to try to understand processes happening inside a planet 250 million miles from earth.
I grew up in Geneva in Switzerland and in Brittany on the West coast of France. I moved to the United States in 2010 to pursue my doctoral degree in earth and planetary science at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The things I miss the most (about home) are the food, particularly bread, and the Alps.
Biggest misconception about Las Vegas before you arrived
I visited Las Vegas for the first time in 2010 and only stayed on the Strip. I really disliked it. I did not realize at the time that this city is surrounded by mountains and very interesting geology.
I came to UNLV in the summer of 2014 for different reasons. The department of geoscience, which includes research groups studying diverse topics (from paleoclimate to volcanology), was building a planetary program. My department also includes diverse analytical instruments that I now use on a regular basis. The geographical and geological location of Las Vegas was also a great motivation for me to come to UNLV.
Inspiration to get into your field
I wanted be an astronaut since I can remember. After taking geology courses in high school, I realized I could study rocks from space. This is when I decided I would work on Martian meteorites and study geology in college. After studying solely the Earth during my bachelor’s and master’s programs, I moved to the U.S. for my Ph.D.
I am a planetary scientist and my research program seeks to better constrain the interior composition, magmatic processes, and general evolution of the planets Mars and Mercury through meteorite and rover data analyses. My (planetary science) research group at UNLV has conducted research on every type of Martian meteorite. Notable research in this area includes comprehensive analyses of Martian samples to mimic the scale of terrestrial geological studies, and rocks measured at the Martian surface by rovers. My research at UNLV has also expanded to the asteroid belt, with investigation of the asteroidal meteorites that are analogs to the planet Mercury.
Biggest misconception about your field
One of the most common misconceptions about Martian rocks is that they have been returned by rovers (or even humans). However, they are all meteorites, which means they have been ejected from Mars from another meteorite, which impacted the Martian surface. We will not have samples until the Mars 2020 mission brings them back to Earth in more than 10 years (if all goes as planned).
Most interesting aspect of your field
I find the concept of studying the chemistry and mineralogy of tiny extraterrestrial rocks whose location on their planetary body is not known, to understand processes happening deep inside a planet located up to 250 million miles from Earth, absolutely fascinating.
Where do you stand on the question of extraterrestrial life?
We have not found proofs for extraterrestrial life yet. We are now discovering that ancient Mars could have been habitable and thus could have harbored life in the past. However, we have no evidence it actually happened. But this universe is large and much more needs to be explored.
Is there a class you have taught that isn’t your typical class?
I enjoyed teaching my planetary class the most. This class included undergraduate and graduate students from the departments of geoscience and astrophysics. This course was different from the other ones I taught because we discussed geological processes occurring on other planets and how to apply terrestrial methods to understand the geology and formation of other planetary bodies. In addition, we discussed planetary missions linked with these geological processes, which helped me learn a lot about different missions.
Favorite secret spot on campus
I am not sure how secret it is, but I like the rooftop of Hospitality Hall. The views of Red Rock, the Spring Mountains, and the Strip are pretty amazing up there.
Outside of work
I like to hike, climb, and run, and I have even started mountain biking: I simply love to be outside!