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September 21, 2012

Planetary Scientist Roger Wiens to Lecture on Mars Mission

Dr. Roger Wiens will deliver a lecture titled "Mars Curiosity Mission" at 7 p.m. Monday, September 24.

Wiens, a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is a 1982 graduate of Wheaton College. He is the principal investigator leading the ChemCam team on the Mars Curiosity Mission.

On August 5, NASA landed its one-ton Curiosity rover on Mars with the goal of studying whether life can thrive on the red planet. Curiosity features a mobile laboratory consisting of 10 scientific instruments, including ChemCam, a remote sensing laser instrument designed to determine whether rocks and soils on Mars have been altered by water and contain chemicals necessary for life.

Wiens helped originate the concept of ChemCam 10 years ago. The device works by firing laser pulses at rock and soil samples from up to 25 feet away and recording the flash of light from the impact spot. The color of the light produced when a small amount of rock is vaporized gives scientists insight into the rock’s composition. ChemCam also takes high-resolution photos of samples for analysis.

In Monday’s lecture, Wiens will discuss the rover and its mission, with highlights from the landing and a travelogue of the rover’s first month on Mars.

“For me, this work is the product of a long-standing desire to explore Mars, going back to my childhood,” Wiens wrote in a recent article. A Wheaton College physics professor helped Wiens in his initial studies on the composition of Mars.

More information about ChemCam is available on its website, msl-chemcam.com. The lecture takes place in room 145 of the Science Center, located at 430 Howard Street in Wheaton. For more information about the lecture, call the Wheaton College Physics Department at 630.752.5069.