Mars Researcher and Alum Speaks to Students

December 17, 2018

Just six years after graduating from Parker School, Jesse Tarnas is making waves with his recent research about life on Mars.  Tarnas, a 2012 graduate of Parker School, shared his exciting findings and inspirational advice with middle and upper school students via videoconference during the school’s ongoing Speaker Series on December 7. 

As a graduate student at Brown University and lead author of a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Tarnas and his colleagues found ancient Mars likely had an energy source for potential life underground.

Using data from NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, Tarnas told Newsweek and other publications, “We showed, based on basic physics and chemistry calculations, that the ancient Martian subsurface likely had enough dissolved hydrogen to power a global subsurface biosphere.”  News of Tarnas’ research has taken the science industry and world by storm, with his study getting published in Science Daily, Science News, Newsweek and more.

During his 40-minute presentation to students, Tarnas explained details of his recent research as well as his involvement in NASA’s new Mars rover launching in 2020.  He shared how he was one of just 150 scientists to attend a three-day summit as part of the landing site selection process for the Mars 2020 rover, whose primary mission is to look for fossils on Mars.  

While attending Parker School, Tarnas was a state debate champion, athlete and actor.  But failing his eighth grade Algebra I exam may have been the pivotal moment he needed to help put him on a trajectory toward his current successes in planetary science.  “I was telling myself I wasn’t good at math and now I do advanced science which requires the highest level of math that planetary scientists typically do,” said Tarnas.  

Tarnas shared with students the following advice to help them best navigate their future:

-          Work hard, really hard.

-          Be proactive - actively seek opportunities, don’t wait for things to happen to you. Tarnas sought an unpaid internship with Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope after his sophomore year.

-          Find a mentor. Tarnas mentioned six mentors who have impacted his career to date.

-          Travel or learn another language – it will enhance your world view. Tarnas traveled to Morocco and learned Arabic.

-          Put a fishing line out for opportunities – you won’t get them all, but you will get one. Tarnas applied for 13 NASA internships and got accepted to two.

-          Don’t listen when people categorically doubt you.  Tarnas was once told his SAT math scores weren’t high enough to pursue physics or math as a career.

Tarnas closed his inspirational talk to students by asking them to think about how they can contribute to advancing civilization to the next phase. He shared, “Whether you are passionate about being an artist, scientist, teacher, writer, engineer, community planner, or politician, as long as you work hard you can make a major impact on the world around you. Our generation has an unprecedented opportunity to do so.”

To view a video of Jesse’s presentation to students, click here.  Audio conditions improve around 10 minutes into video recording.