Jen Blank, Ph.D. is an astrobiologist at the NASA Ames Research Center and a Research Scientist at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science. She is a member of the Mars Curiosity rover science team and studies Mars analog environments on Earth, focusing on the potential of water-rock interactions to support microbial life and the geochemical signatures of such life that are captured in the rock record. She is affiliated with the ChemCam instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Science Team, teasing out the mineral and inferred fluid history of the Martian terrain explored by Curiosity.
In the past, Jen was Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute for 6 years.
Recent field work has led her to carbonates associated with cold springs in ultramafic terrain (Del Puerto Ophiolite, California), sinters in warm springs in the Andes (Pampa Lirima, Chile), and hot springs in the Indian Himalayas (Puga geothermal field, Ladakh).
Jen earned her Bachelor of Science in Geology and Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Stanford University. She earned her Master of Science in Oceanography from the University of Washington, and her Ph.D. in geochemistry from Caltech (California Institute of Technology).
Her scientific interests are diverse. Trained formally as a geochemist and experimental petrologist, she’s made mini volcanoes in the laboratory to quantify the amounts and behavior of gases (carbon dioxide and water) dissolved in volcanic systems. She’s also studied fluid evolution and phase changes in real time using diamond cell pressure chambers and vibrational spectroscopy. Scaling up, she’s fired large canons to generate conditions akin to those of a comet hitting the earth — and found that amino acids can polymerize to peptides in these ballistic impacts.
Jen is affiliated with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, a virtual institute that uses collaborative technologies for astrobiology science research, mentoring of citizen science activities, and outreach. Jen loves thinking about where we came from and where we should look for life on Mars and other planets. She’s interested in lunar and Martian colonization and has spent a 2-week rotation living in the Mars Desert Research Station habitat in south-central Utah.
Jen was also a guest in the series Through the Wormhole, hosted by Morgan Freeman. Jen talked in episode 5 in 2010, titled How Did We Get Here?