EPEC Profiles – Indhu Varatharajan

EPEC Profiles – Indhu Varatharajan

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Indhu Varatharajan is a final-year PhD student at Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) group at Department of Planetary Laboratories, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Berlin.

Being a girl child from a village in southern India with a dream to pursue planetary career since 13 year old and with no adequate financial background, its been one hell of a ride until here. I did not do it alone and I had help throughout my journey — and everyday I try my best to be someone’s help in their journey of a planetary career.

I strongly believe that international collaboration in very important when it comes to planetary science. This is my motivation to become the council member and Chair of Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) Network. I am passionate about volunteering for leader/professional posts as its my best chance to promote planetary and astronomy science to a wider community and see the community I envision it to be.

I am currently a final-year PhD student at the Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) group at the Department of Planetary Laboratories, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Berlin and will be graduating by end of 2020. My PhD is focused on ‘Evaluating new spectral analysis techniques to study the hot surface of Mercury with MERTIS on ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission’ and my advisor is Dr Jörn Helbert, Co-PI of MERTIS. I am officially Co-Investigator of MERTIS since 2018.

In the last 8 years, I am have been working in the field of planetary science investigating various planetary exploration methods such as laboratory spectroscopy from ultraviolet to far-infrared spectroscopy of planetary analogues, laboratory emissivity studies of hot planetary analogues under simulated planetary surface conditions, nanoscale spectroscopy of synthetic planetary analogue materials with synchrotron facilities, telescope observations, machine learning approaches to data analysis of orbital hyperspectral datasets, and planetary field analogue studies targeting in-situ planetary exploration. Over these years, I have had the opportunities to study and explore various aspects of planetary targets include the Moon, Mars, Mercury, near earth asteroids, main belt asteroids, Earth and meteorites.

I am personally motivated towards developing cross disciplinary AI-ML techniques for planetary surface exploration through an integrated spectroscopy approach. I am passionate about designing and building planetary science solutions that transform hierarchical datasets at scale and generate valuable insights to planetary surface resources and drive crucial exploration decisions.

I personally believe that taking responsibilities at a young age allows us to learn the professional elements in a more stress-free environment and EPEC allows me exactly that!!

At EPEC we are a team who are not only passionate about the research we do but also equally passionate in engraining varieties of soft skills including leadership and management qualities that benefit our early career fellows in becoming young professionals. It’s a rewarding and unique experience to work with early-career researchers across Europe and the international community across various working groups under common goals.

Indhu Varatharajan

More information about Indhu Varatharajan:

Contact: indhu.varatharajan@dlr.de

The compilation of all publications and abstracts are linked at this NASA ADS link: http://tiny.cc/indhu_varatharajan

Credit: Indhu Varatharajan

Academics and others: BE in Geoinformatics (Chennai, India), MSc in Planetary Science (London, UK), (ongoing) PhD in Planetary Spectroscopy and MERTIS/BEPICOLOMBO Data Science (Berlin, Germany), Co-Investigator of MERTIS payload onboard ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission (2018-present), Chair of Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) Committee (2017-present), RAS Councillor (2019-2020), Founder and President of Astronomy and Planetary Science Club of CEG (2009-2012).

Indhu Varatharajan’s special interests: AI-driven integrated planetary spectroscopy and planetary surface science and exploration, Moon-Mercury science, space weathering, volatiles, volcanism, impact cratering, STEM outreach.

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPEC Profiles – Solmaz Adeli

EPEC Profiles – Solmaz Adeli

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Solmaz Adeli is a planetary geologist, working as a Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Planetary Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Studying the planets has always been a dream to me, since I was little, and I couldn’t be happier for being in this research topic in this particular period of time, where there are missions to various planets, asteroids, icy moons, even far Kuiper belt objects!

Researching the past climate and surface conditions of the Red Planet is my expertise. I am actively involved in the HRSC camera science team on board ESA’s Mars Express mission, and the PanCam camera on board the future ESA and Roscosmos rover, Rosalind Franklin, which is a part of the ExoMars mission.

I obtained my doctoral degree in 2016 from the Freie Universität Berlin and German Space Center (DLR) on the topic of ‘History of liquid water on Mars’. My thesis was about reconstructing the geological history of a region on the southern hemisphere of Mars, where the presence of one of the largest paleolakes on Mars has been hypothesized (Eridania lake). During my first postdoc, I studied the recent glaciation phases in the midlatitude regions of Mars.

Currently I am supporting the Rosalind Franklin rover science team in their landing site high resolution mapping effort, by leading a part of the mapping exercise. In addition, I am also involved in preparing samples to be analyzed by the rover’s scientific payload. This allowed me to visit the exobiology research team at CBM/CNRS laboratories in Orleans, France last year, for a couple of months. For this visit, I won a travel grant from the Geo.X network in Berlin and Brandenburg.

In addition to the research activities, I also teach planetary science-related topics at the Freie Universität Berlin and Universität Potsdam, and occasionally supervise bachelor and master thesis, as well as co-supervising doctoral studies. Interacting with interested and motivated students is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Since 2019, I am chairing the EPEC EPSC working group, along with Maike Neuland. This has been an amazing experience of creativity, networking, organizing, planning, interacting with other working groups and conference organizers, and working with great members of the this working group. I have learnt so much about how an event such as EPSC is being managed and how early careers can influence the larger community.

Solmaz Adeli

More information about Solmaz Adeli:

Contact: Solmaz.Adeli@dlr.de

Solmaz Adeli
Credit: Solmaz Adeli

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPEC Profiles – Gene Schmidt

EPEC Profiles – Gene Schmidt

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Gene Schmidt has been fortunate to travel throughout the world due to geology.

Credit: Gene Schmidt

My parents were both geologists and because of their various research projects I grew up living in Nevada, Montana, Argentina, and Michigan. Due to this type of upbringing I have had a strong interest in both geology and outer space since I was a child.

I received a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Western Michigan University and entered North Dakota’s 2008 oil boom as a well-site geologist aiding various oil companies in horizontal drilling. I later received a master’s degree in Earth Sciences at Brock University in Ontario, Canada where I began my research on the interior layered deposits of Mars.

I moved to Italy in 2017 to obtain a PhD in planetary geology from the International Research School of Planetary Science and obtained many opportunities to present my research across Europe. I am now a researcher at the University Roma Tre where I am continuing geologic research on Mars and expanding my research to Martian analogs, spectroscopy, and the Precambrian geology of Earth.

EPEC is a great community of young scientists with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. It is a strong platform for anyone beginning research in various fields of outer space to create a network of like-minded scientists. I met many of my current colleagues and coauthors through EPEC and I enjoy the opportunity to help anyone who is just starting out and searching for some footing early in their career.

Gene Schmidt

More information about Gene Schmidt:

Contact: gene.w.schmidt@gmail.com

Credit: Gene Schmidt

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPEC Profiles – Erica Luzzi

EPEC Profiles – Erica Luzzi

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Erica Luzzi is currently enrolled as PhD student at Jacobs University Bremen and her research project consists of geological mapping on Mars within the European PLANMAP consortium.

Part of her PhD project was also funded by ESA within the Analog1 experiment. The latter experience brought her on a field mission in Lanzarote (Canary Islands), where, together with ESA astronauts, a variety of experiments were performed to test tele-robotic future exploration of the Moon and Mars, remote sensing through UAVs, and other field analyses that the astronauts will perform in future missions of human exploration.

More recently, Erica took part in a further version of Analog1 in which the ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano was controlling a rover located on Earth from the International Space Station, testing future missions on the Moon, where a rover will be located on the Moon’s surface and the astronaut will drive it, sampling rocks, safely from orbit. In this experiment Erica was in the backroom and was part of the science team that suggested to the astronauts what samples to collect based on what they could see from the camera on board the rover.

Erica Luzzi during a field campaign. Credit: All rights reserved by Erica Luzzi.

Something that she really loves apart from her PhD, is her position as Teaching Assistant for the courses of Structural Geology and Sedimentology. This is her biggest dream: getting to pass the knowledge to younger generations in the same way her professors did with her. Caring, and also stimulating because learning has to be fun, has to be a nourishment for curiosity.

Recently, Erica won the Amelia Earhart Fellowship, a $10 000 award for women pursuing their PhD in Space Sciences, that will allow her to have a budget for field trips studying terrestrial analogues, for buying new equipment and for attending conferences.

In 2021 she will pursue her doctorate and will look for post-doc opportunities. Even though she is dreaming of coming back to her beloved country, Italy, she stays open to all possibilities and is ready to work hard to get a permanent position at a university where she will be able, one day, to teach and keep doing research on the Red Planet.

Last but not least, Erica is currently in charge of organising the next EPEC Annual Week, which was supposed to take place in Padova in June 2020 but, due to the Covid-19, has been postponed to 2021. 

The EPEC Annual Week is a great opportunity for networking (I personally gained a couple of future co-authorships through this event) and also to learn how to deal with common problems at the beginning of the academic career, both psychological and for practical matters.

Erica Luzzi

More information about Erica Luzzi:

Social Media:

Contact: e.luzzi@jacobs-university.de

Credit: All rights reserved by Erica Luzzi.

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPEC Profiles – Joana Marques Oliveira

EPEC Profiles – Joana Marques Oliveira

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Joana Marques Oliveira is currently studying for a PhD at the Paris Observatory, section of Meudon. She is using occultations to study the atmosphere of Triton, focusing on an event that took place on the 5th October 2017, involving over 100 observers with both small and large telescopes, spread throughout Europe, Eastern America, and Northern Africa. Her goal is to find if the atmosphere changed in any way from Voyager 2’s fly-by in 1989 until the 2017 occultation event. This work is supported by the Lucky Star project, an ERC grant, led by her supervisor.


Joana Marques Oliveira. Credit: J. Desmars

Joana knew that she wanted to go into astrophysics from a young age, when she watched a movie about a female astrophysicist working in NASA. At that moment she realised that, not only astronomy was a career, but she could pursue it. She had a teacher in elementary school that helped her find how to start her career in this field, and she completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in physics specialising in astronomy and astrophysics at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, where her focus was on extragalactic astrophysics.

During those years, she was doing outreach at the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences, in Lisbon. Being involved with the outreach program helped open doors for her, as well as teach her a lot about outreach and assembling small telescopes, a key skill for occultations. She has done quite a large number of outreach astronomical observing events, including one at a correction centre for minors, an incredibly eye-opening experience. She has even helped organise four conferences thanks to this, and in two of which she was part of the Local Organising Committee (LOC).

Joana Marques Oliveira. Credit: Pedro Machado

She got involved with the Occultations group, through her outreach work. She was interested in the topic, and she decided to work with the scientist in charge of the group on the last year of her Master’s, on a project to study Venus’s atmosphere, where she got to go to Hawai’i to help in an observation mission. They were accepted for a bilateral project between Portugal and France, the Program Pessoa, for the years 2017 and 2018, called OccultGaia.

After her Master’s, she applied for several PhD programs, and she was accepted by the Portuguese Science and Technology foundation to work on the occultation topic here in Paris. She is supporting EPEC as Chair of the Finances Group, and as a member of the Diversity Working Group.

Being part of a group of young researchers has been amazing. We all have different areas of focus within Planetary Science, yet, and we all have the same objective: to build a supportive and dynamic group, with great activities for everyone. I never thought I’d be involved with EPEC, and I feel honoured that they have accepted me to be Chair of the new Finances Group.

Joana Marques Oliveira

More information about Joana Marques Oliveira:

Social Media: Instagram

Contact: joana.oliveira@obspm.fr

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPEC Profiles – Petr Broz

EPEC Profiles – Petr Broz

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Dr. Petr Brož (1984) works as a researcher at the Department of Geodynamics of the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences from 2010, where he focus about the volcanism across the Solar System. He is mainly interested about kilometre-sized cones formed by explosive volcanic activity caused by magma degassing and water/magma interactions on the surface of Mars. His research is based on the analysis of the remote sensing data from the morphological and morphometrical point of view.

He obtained his Ph.D. degree (in 2015) at the Faculty of Science of the Charles University in Prague. During his study he completed an internship at DLR (Germany) and at the Open University (United Kingdom).

Dr. Brož is a laureate of the Nadání Josefa, Marie a Zdenky Hlávkových Prize for talented students and young researchers (under the age of 33) of the Czech Academy of Science and the Otto Wichterle Award which is given by the Czech Academy of Sciences to stimulate and encourage selected, exceptionally outstanding, promising young scientists at the Czech Academy of Sciences for their remarkable contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge in a given area of science.

Dr. Brož demonstrating the Barrel Organ of Plate Techtonics

Together with Dr. Matěj Machek, he was also awarded by the price SCIAP 2016 for new and inspirational outreach model of plate tectonics. Dr. Brož is also dedicated to public speaking and writing in the attempt to popularise geosciences in the context of exploration of the Solar System.

“EPEC is an interesting initiative which is trying to build a European-based community of early career scientists and boost their cooperation as well as their careers.

Dr. Petr Brož

More info about Dr. Petr Broz:


If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPEC Profiles – Melissa Mirino

EPEC Profiles – Melissa Mirino

In this new series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Melissa Mirino is chair of the EPEC Communications Working Group
Melissa Mirino is the current Chair of the Europlanet Early Career Network

Melissa Mirino is the current Chair of the Europlanet Early Career Network.

Melissa Mirino is currently a Postdoctoral researcher at University of Padova, in Italy, where she started to be involved with the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission in 2022 by collaborating with the team of SIMBIO-SYS instrument and the BepiColombo Surface and Composition Working Group. Her current project is focused on characterising the different aspects of the candidate sources of later volcanism by studying the variation in tectonic regime linked to formation and later-reactivation of basins structures.

She obtained her PhD in the field of planetary science at the Open University (UK). For her doctoral dissertation, she studied ancient river systems on Mars called inverted channels.  

Since she was an undergraduate student at the University of Rome 3, Melissa’s main research interests have focused on the application of remote sensing in the geological study of rocky bodies in the Solar System. After pursuing her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Geology, she took up many opportunities to study abroad, winning several scholarships and travel grants. As a result, she has collaborated with local and international research institutes and universities to develop projects in the field of planetary science. 

Melissa has worked with several kinds of datasets from the ESA Mars-Express, NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and NASA Dawn missions, analysing features on Mars, Vesta and Ceres in collaboration with the Italian institute INAF-IAPS and Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. In 2017 she took part in an internship at the European Space Agency (ESA/ESTEC) to work with both radar and spectral data from the North Polar Cap on Mars. 

Melissa has also collaborated in international projects related to:

  • Astronaut Analogue Simulations (in collaboration with ESA, the Space Generation Advisory Council and Lunares).
  • A stratospheric balloon project (promoted by the International Space University and the University of South Australia)
  • Rover trials (as part of the OU team and Exo-fit simulation in support of the Exo-Mars rover mission).
Melissa Mirino. Credit: Maciej Urbanowicz

Melissa has a personal interest in inspiring the next generation to pursue careers in science. As an undergraduate student she worked in a museum and planetarium located in Rome (Museo Geopaleontologico Ardito Desio, Italy) and in Trento (MuSe, Museo delle scienze, Italy) to engage students with topics related to geology and astronomy. She worked as PhD tutor for the Brilliant Club, an award-winning charity that works with schools and universities across the UK to increase the number of pupils from under-represented backgrounds progressing to leading universities. As a PhD tutor, she developed and delivered tutorials about planetary geology (see Europlanet Inspiring Story-April 2021). 

She was part of the organising team for the Space Rendezvous in Rome to organise informal meetings to discuss space-related topics with space enthusiasts (see Europlanet Inspiring Story – July 2019). She also acted as Co-Chair of the Communications Working Group (from 2018 to 2023). Currently, she is supporting EPEC’s activities as the Chair of the Europlanet Early Career Network.

“It is an honour for me to be the new Chair of the EPEC Network. EPEC is allowing me to collaborate with other enthusiastic space professionals. This experience enables me to improve both my communication and leadership skills. This is a great experience to create something new in support of all Early Career space scientists.

Melissa Mirino

More info about Melissa Mirino: https://it.linkedin.com/in/melissa-mirino-616730121

Contact: melissa.mirino@community.isunet.edu

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

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