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“She is one of only seven principal investigators that developed innovative instruments to accompany the Mars 2020 Rover expedition which is expected to land approximately 3:55 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 18. Not only is she the first Australian, but also the first woman scientific lead on a Mars mission. “
Dr Abigail Allwood
Research Scientist, Geologist and Astrobiologist
| Photo Credit: Advance.org
Dr. Abigail Allwood is at the cutting-edge of space exploration and is well-recognized as a world-leading field geologist, astrobiologist, and research scientist with NASA’s prestigious Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is one of only seven principal investigators that developed innovative instruments to accompany the Mars 2020 Rover expedition which is expected to land approximately 3:55 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 18. Not only is she the first Australian, but also the first woman scientific lead on a Mars mission.
During Abigail’s exceptional career she has authored countless articles, is a visiting scholar at the California Institute of Technology and acts as an editorial board member and review scientist for some of the world’s leading space agencies. Perhaps, most importantly, Abigail is a passionate advocate for science education and believes that Australia needs to invest more in STEM education and opportunities if we are to curtail the brain drain of our brightest minds and talents.
Her focus is the Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (a $39M project involving some of the world’s best scientists and engineers) which will examine rock chemistry as part of the Mars 2020 Rover expedition. Abigail has authored over 60 journal articles, abstracts, and conference papers and is a review panel scientist for NASA, European Space Agency, and the Swiss National Science Foundation. Earlier in her career, Abigail was responsible for ground-breaking-work proving billion-year-old rock formations in Australia’s Pilbara region held records of Earth’s oldest life forms. The discovery made the cover of the renowned Nature international journal.
Abigail as a geologist and astrobiologist has studied stromatolites, detection of life on other planets, and the evolution of life on early Earth. Her early work gained notability for finding evidence of life in 3.45 billion year old stromatolites in the Pilbara formation in Australia, which was featured on the cover of the journal Nature.
Allwood grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and was inspired by Carl Sagan and his description of the Voyager missions in the series Cosmos. She went on to achieve an undergraduate degree in geosciences and completed her Ph.D. at Macquarie University in Australia in 2006 under the advisement of Dr. Malcolm Walter. During her Ph.D., she published on 3.45 billion years old stromatolites in the Pilbara formation, describing the diversity of early life on the Archean Earth. She went on to do postdoctoral work at JPL, where she is currently a principal investigator on the Mars rover mission set for 2020
Allwood has published extensively on characterizing stromatolites using various techniques. In 2018, she published a study of 3.7 billion years old metasedimentary rocks in the Isua formation in Greenland. In this study, she and colleagues analyzed structures that were previously determined to be biogenic stromatolites. However, Allwood concluded that the putatively biogenic structures were structures caused by deformation, receiving media attention