Arvidson to discuss Mars missions in inaugural Walker lecture series

Raymond E. Arvidson, Ph.D., the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor, will deliver the inaugural Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 in Room 100, Brown Hall.

Arvidson, who has played key roles in NASA’s missions to Mars, including the current Phoenix Mars Mission, will discuss “Mars: Environments, Habitability, and Life” during the lecture, which is free and open to the public.


WUSTL’s McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences is sponsoring the lecture as part of the Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture Series in memory of Robert M. Walker, Ph.D., the center’s inaugural director from 1975-1999. He continued to be active with the center until his death in 2004.

Walker was a pioneering physicist who played a decisive role in shaping research in the space sciences, not only at the University, but also worldwide, according to Ramanath Cowsik, Ph.D., professor of physics in Arts & Sciences and the center’s director.

The McDonnell Center, which was established in 1975 through a gift from the aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell, is a consortium of WUSTL faculty, research staff and students coming primarily from the Arts & Sciences departments of earth & planetary sciences and physics who are working on the cutting edge of space research.

“The center’s activities have projected Washington University as a leading institution for research in a wide range of fields like gravitation, cosmology, modern astronomy and planetary sciences,” Cowsik said.

“Bob brought in talented scientists like Ray Arvidson and Larry Haskin and worked with them closely to transform the erstwhile geology department into the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, with a substantial space research component,” Cowsik said. “Thus it was felt appropriate to establish an annual lecture commemorating Bob’s contributions.

“The choice of the inaugural speaker was instantly clear — Professor Raymond E. Arvidson, who has worked so closely with Bob in making Washington University one of the leaders in space sciences. His own credentials are impeccable — an eminent scientist, much decorated with awards and distinctions and currently leading the exploration of Mars to find evidence for water on that planet — a necessary component for life and habitation,” Cowsik said.

Arvidson also will deliver a colloquium titled “The Mars Phoenix Lander Mission: A Story of Soil and Ice,” as part of the lecture series at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29, in Room 204, Crow Hall. A coffee reception will be held at 3:30 p.m. in Room 245 of Compton Hall. Both are free and open to the public as well.

Robert Walker

“The international exploration of Mars has focused during the past two decades on understanding the planet and its history, with an emphasis on current and past climates and implications for habitability and life,” said Arvidson, who is a Phoenix Science Operations lead.

The Phoenix Lander successfully touched down on a high northern latitude site on Mars last May 25 and began imaging the surface, trenching and acquiring soil and water ice samples for on-board analyses, and acquiring meteorological observations in coordination with Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter measurements.

“During both talks, we will cover the evidence that ancient Mars had rivers and lakes and that the planet became increasingly arid and cold,” Arvidson said. “Implications for environmental conditions conducive to the origin and evolution of life will be discussed, and we will speculate on where to explore for evidence that Mars once supported life.”

Arvidson also is co-investigator for the Phoenix robotic arm, a crucial instrument that is gathering the soil and ice samples; lead for archiving mission data; and chair of the Phoenix landing site working group. He participated in the two Viking Lander missions in 1976, helped select the landing site for the 2004 Mars Exploration Rover mission, and then guided the activities of the rovers Spirit and Opportunity as the mission’s deputy principal investigator.

For more information, contact Jan Foster at 935-5332 or