SETI Institute Principal Investigator
Dr. Devon Burr received her PhD. in Geosciences from the University of Arizona, Tucson, with a minor in planetary sciences. She has worked at the U.S. Geological Survey as a Eugene M. Shoemaker Fellow, as well as at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Her awards include a Graduate Student Researcher Program fellowship, Fulbright fellowship, Iowa Fellow, and Distinguished Graduate of the United States Naval Academy. Her scientific papers have garnered "Best Student Presentation" and Outstanding Student Paper" honors.
As a planetary geologist at SETI, I study the geomorphology (surface geology) of Mars and Titan. Mars is currently NASA's prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life, and the common denominator of life as we know it is water. Life on Earth may have begun in hydrothermal environments where water and volcanism coincided, so aqueous activity in volcanic terrains on Mars may hold clues to possible Martian biotic or prebiotic activity. My Mars research focuses on deciphering evidence of recent water floods in young volcanic plains. My colleagues and I are currently preparing to numerically model catastrophic flood flow in one particularly young and well-preserved flood channel, in order to estimate the flood discharge and other hydraulic processes. This in turn will provide clues as to the movement of the groundwater that fed the flood and the sediment that was transported by the flood. As biotic activity on Mars may reside in the subsurface, the possible deposition and/or locations of subsurface sediment on Mars' surface will help focus our exploration of possible biotic or prebiotic activity on (or in!) Mars.
I also study periglacial (ground ice) features, such as pingos or ice wedge polygons. As on Earth, any ice in periglacial features on Mars might provide niches of cold-tolerant life forms. My research in this area strives to use morphologic measurement of terrestrial periglacial features to determine the origin of similar-appearaing Martian features and whether the Martian features are active, i.e., reflecting the current environment, or whether they are relict features that no longer contain ice.
Titan offers us the astrobiological opportunity to investigate conditions similar to those of early Earth, before or around the time of life's terrestrial genesis. My work on Titan involves calculating the transport of ice and organic sediment by liquid hydrocarbons over the surface. These calculations not only contribute to quantifying the movement of organics but also support investigations into other geologic processes, as we grow in our understanding of this seeming analogue for early Earth.
- SETI Institute Explorer, Special Edition 2006
Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe
515 N Whisman Rd
Mountain View CA 94043