AstroWomen: Mini Interview with Caroline Freissinet

Categories: Mars Missions News Brief

This story comes from Astrobiology Magazine’s AstroWomen blog at: Check out AstroWomen for more important work from women scientists in fields related to the space exploration and planetary science.

Caroline Freissinet has been making headlines for her work with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. The team recently made an announcement at the 2014 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union concerning the Curiosity rover’s detection of organic molecules on the surface of Mars.

Caroline Freissinet, NASA postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Credit: NASA Mars Program

Caroline Freissinet, NASA postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Credit: NASA Mars Program

Caroline Freissinet is a postdoctoral researcher in NASA’s Solar System Exploration Division, and works with NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. Freissinet is part of the team of scientists who recently used Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to make the first definitive detection of organics on the Mars surface.

Freissinet is the lead author of a paper concerning Curiosity’s discovery of organics on the surface of Mars that has been submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets.

This mini-interview comes from the SAM Science Team website at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

Caroline Freissinet. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Caroline Freissinet. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

What is your role in the SAM project?

I’m a chemist, involved in the GC-MS part of SAM, and more specifically in the derivatization experiment, which enables SAM to detect and identify heavy organic molecules such as carboxylic and amino acids in Mars solid samples.

What about SAM do you find most interesting? Most challenging?

Most interesting is to see all the different persons, coming from such diverse backgrounds, all working on this same and one project which is SAM. This passionate work of all these people for a unique cause is incredible. Most challenging is to make something work as a whole on Mars when it’s so complex to make each part of it work independently in the lab! Also, every little detail had to be thought carefully because there is nothing possible to add or remove once there, or noone to fix it. You can’t forget anything. It’s far beyond the level of when you are in the field trip and have to work with what you brought only, which is already so much challenging.

Have you worked on other missions or flight instruments? If so which ones?

I’ve worked during my PhD on research and technology program applied to the Mars Organic Molecules Analyzer (MOMA) experiment onboard the NASA-ESA joint ExoMars mission.

What kind/level of education do you have?

PhD in analytical chemistry which I defended at Ecole Centrale Paris in 2010. My background is in molecular biology, biochemistry and evolutionary biology.

What are your favorite things to do outside of work?

Outside of work, I love to be outside of the world, shooting the most remote and inspiring landscapes with my Nikon after endless hikes, vertical rockclimbing, mountain treks and/or backcountry skiing. I travel the world to find such stunning places and adrenaline to get there. I can still bring non-contaminated samples from such remote locations!

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