College Faculty and Alumni Provide ‘Crimson Connection’ to Mars Research

Dr. Ryan Ewing, an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, and NASA scientist James Rice, a College alumnus, have more than The University of Alabama in common. Both scientists have been involved in different ways with the discovery and exploration of Mars, known as the Red Planet.

Ewing, who specializes in sediment dynamics, has collaborated with other scientists on the most recent Mars mission, Curiosity, to analyze rock outcrops on the planet. These structures are the part of rock formations that appears above the surface. The particular focus of Ewing’s collaborative research is determining whether the rocks are derived from wind-blown sediments.

According to Ewing, differentiating the wind-blown sediments from those sediments that are created by water will provide information about the rocks that can provide some important clues to Mars’ history. Ewing says he is interested in learning how these rock formations may have changed over time.

Ewing has been fascinated by Mars ever since his undergraduate years at Colorado College. As an undergraduate student, he did an internship with NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Space Institute in Houston. Now in his second year as a faculty member in the College, Ewing has passed on his love for Mars and astrogeology with his students.

Someone who shares Ewing’s enthusiasm for the Red planet is James Rice, who has had the rare privilege of naming Martian landmarks in his work as an astrogeologist. He graduated in 1984 with a degree from the College’s Department of Geological Sciences. He then received a master’s degree from Northeast Louisiana University and a Ph.D. from Arizona State.

Naming landmarks is a one of the perks of his job and with this privilege, Rice has infused some Alabama history into the history of Mars. Rice was responsible for naming two craters on the Red Planet’s surface: one named Tuscaloosa and the other, Northport. He also named a rock found in the Victoria crater there after Eugene Smith, the 19th century UA geology professor after whom Smith Hall is named.

Rice and Ewing met briefly in this spring and while their paths don’t cross often, they both connect Tuscaloosa to the solar system’s the fourth planet.