NASA honors UCF professor for space environment research

Adrienne Dove awarded NASA's Susan Mahan Niebur Early Career Award

ORLANDO, Fla. – A University of Central Florida planetary scientist received an award from NASA Friday in the name of a young scientist, with a passion for inspiring others, who died of cancer in 2012.

UCF assistant physics professor Adrienne Dove, 33, was selected for NASA’s Susan Mahan Niebur Early Career Award for her research on microgravity, planet formation and the surfaces of small bodies in our solar system.

The Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute will present Dove with the award this summer, when she will get to talk about some of her research and work mentoring young scientists.

Dove works in the UCF physics laboratory to help understand the surfaces of asteroids and other small bodies without atmospheres.

Last year, Dove was a co-investigator on a microgravity experiment that was launched on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. Another of her experiments, called Strata, which examines how regolith--or soil--changes in microgravity, just concluded on the International Space Station.

In the fall, Dove will work with undergraduate students on a NASA-funded experiment in which she and the students will go on a parabolic flight to understand how regolith responds to different landscapes, like slopes.

Saturday's mission was a success, according to Jeff Bezos. (Photo: Blue Origin)

"The experiment is to help understand surface features on asteroids and comets," Dove said. "If you disturb a surface, how does it respond?"

Dove said the award in Niebur's name is even more meaningful to her because Niebur is someone she admired, and she met her a few times as an undergraduate student.

"She was good at bringing visibility to women in science, family issues and other issues in science," Dove said. 

Before Niebur died at 39 of cancer, she worked as a NASA Discovery Program scientist. She was honored by NASA in 2011 for her work helping many women in fields of planetary science and astrophysics.

Niebur’s mantra was “All that survives after our death are publications and people. So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain,” according to NASA.

The late scientist founded the Women in Planetary Science project and co-founded the first-ever early career fellowships and workshops for planetary scientists at NASA.

Dove said she also does outreach on campus and off encouraging girls and young women to get involved in the science through groups like Girls Excelling in Math and Science, called the GEM Club.

Another way Dove does shares her love for planetary science is through the podcast medium and an online blog. Dove and two of her UCF physics department colleagues, Joshua Colwell and Jim Cooney, co-host a podcast called "Walkabout the Galaxy."

The trio uploads a new podcast two or three times a month in which they discuss new discoveries, scientific controversies, like Planet 9, and science-fiction pop culture.

Dove, a second year facility member, is on the tenure track and excited about the work coming out of UCF.

"We have a really exciting group working on science and exploration issues and it's a really good place to be," Dove said.

Past winners of the Niebur award include Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter deputy project scientist Noah Petro planetary geologist Jacob Bleacher, environmental scientist Katherine Joy and planetary scientist Simone Marchi.