Divya M Persaud
Occupation: Planetary Scientist, writer, composer
Research Areas: Martian Geology, Remote Sensing, Geophysics
"Geology on Mars is really about Earth - finding and telling a story about our worlds and their connections. This influences my art – for example, visualization, but also music and poetry"
Source: UCL Blog Post 2020
Divya is from New Jersey, USA and went to the University of Rochester in New York State. While she was there she studied geology and music. During her degree, Divya was also an intern at NASA and at the SETI institute. In 2017, Divya moved to the UK to complete a PhD at University College London.
As a student, Divya used her knowledge of how we study the Earth to study other worlds. Geologists have lots of ways to study the Earth, which include remote sensing. This is when you collect data from a place without needing to be there. The information is used to make maps of large areas and even measure the heights of objects and features on the ground. On Earth it relies on data collected by instruments on planes or satellites.
Divya's work uses data sent back to Earth from space probes. Data collected by these probes helps us know how planets and moons formed. They can also help us learn what these worlds are like beneath the surface, and if life could exist there.
Divya has worked on many research projects which have used data from lots of places in our Solar System. Places including the surfaces of Mercury, Mars and the icy moons of Saturn. She has also studied the minerals inside pieces of asteroid which fell to the Earth as meteorites.
Divya's PhD focuses on new ways to use the data collected by satellites which are in orbit around Mars. She has worked with data sent back to Earth from ESA's Mars Express mission and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Divya develops new ways to look at the data and images in 3D. This helps scientists on Earth to study the geology of Mars. Her work includes the area of Mars where NASA's Curiosity rover is exploring - Gale Crater.
In 2021, Divya became a research scholar at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is part of the Europa Lander and Clipper missions. These are missions which NASA plans to carry out in the future. If the mission goes ahead, the Lander will land on Jupiter's icy moon, Europa and look for signs of life. The Clipper will orbit Europa and investigate whether life could live there. Divya's role is to give science support to the teams who are planning the mission and developing the technology which will be on board.
Divya shares her passion for science and space by giving talks to the public. She also speaks on the topic of space ethics. This is how nations can explore space together and for good reasons. Divya is part of the organising team for the Space Science in Context conference. This event brings scientists together to talk about how science can improve society. University College London rewarded Divya's commitment to promoting science with the Elizabeth Puchnarewicz Award for Outstanding Contribution to Public Outreach.
Divya is also a poet and a musician and wants to be the first cellist on Mars! She has published books of her poetry and performs her work at festivals. Divya composed and released her own album which combines poetry and classical music. It tells the story of two astronauts searching for life on different worlds.