UNLV geoscience professor Elisabeth (Libby) Hausrath was recognized with the Nevada Regents’ Rising Researcher Award at the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents meeting March 4.
The honor is given annually to one NSHE faculty member from UNLV, UNR, and the Desert Research Institute. Awards are based on early-career accomplishments and potential for future advancement and recognition in research.
Hausrath, who joined the UNLV faculty in 2009, conducts research on soil-forming processes, water-rock interaction, chemical weathering, and the geochemistry of the planet Mars.
One of her projects involves interpreting data from the NASA’s Mars Exploration Program to investigate how soil and water might have once interacted on the surface of our solar system’s most-Earthlike neighbor.
“My research program aims to better understand chemical weathering and soil formation on Earth and on Mars,” she said. “The Mars Exploration Program results in increasing amounts of fascinating data from Mars. Our goal is to help interpret and understand these data and their implications for Mars as a potentially habitable planet.”
Her research team also conducts analyses of clay minerals and their precursors, which form in the presence of water and are of intense interest to scientists studying habitability.
“Our research on transitions in clay-mineral chemistry is yielding fascinating results that may help us better interpret the potential habitability of clay-mineral-containing Martian environments,” Hausrath said. “This project is providing new insights that could lead to further studies conducted at UNLV or other institutions.”
NASA recently picked Hausrath and 13 other scientists to serve on the Returned Sample Science Board to offer scientific input into the design and implementation of the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission.
Her work has implications closer to home as well. Hausrath is part of a group that recently received funding to look at snow dynamics. The research team is examining interactions between snow algae, microorganisms, and minerals in the nutrient-poor environment present in snow, which may also be an analog to Mars.
Hausrath earned a Ph.D. from Penn State University in geoscience and astrobiology, and worked as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow there. She received a NASA postdoctoral fellowship to work at NASA Johnson Space Center, where she began to study phosphate mobility on Mars. She has an extensive publication record in scholarly journals, including Nature Geoscience, Geobiology, American Journal of Science, Astrobiology, and American Mineralogist.