Space Detective Talks Powerful Tools Of Her Trade During Feb. 8 Science On Tap

Suzanne Nowicki explores the moon, Mars, Mercury and Saturn with specialized spectrometers Feb. 8 during Science On Tap. Photo Courtesy LANL


How did the Mars Odyssey orbiter identify the elements present on Mars? How do scientists understand not only what planet’s environment is like now, but also what it was in the ancient past?

The answer: By detecting gamma rays.

On Monday, Feb. 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Suzanne Nowicki, a manager in the Space Science and Applications group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, leads the virtual conversation “Exploring Our Solar System through Gamma Ray and Neutron Detection,” the latest in the Science on Tap conversation series.


Nowicki is an expert in gamma-ray and neutron spectrometers and how these devices are used to measure the composition of a planet’s surface matter, the presence of water and ice, or the history of a its climate — all crucial factors for human exploration.

She will explain how spectrometers have been used successfully on the moon, Mars and Mercury in the past and how they are soon to be used on Saturn’s moon Titan, Mars’s moon Phobos and the asteroid Psyche in the future.

Nowicki has more than 13 years of extensive experience in the field of space sciences. She is an expert in nuclear instrumentation design and techniques for characterization of the elemental composition of planets and solid bodies. She holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan in applied physics and has acquired a strong background in radiation detection through the research that she performed at the University of Michigan, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory (2015–present).

Science on Tap is a convivial opportunity to engage with Lab scientists on their current projects. A brief presentation is followed by questions, answers and discussion. The fun takes place on the third Monday of each month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. virtually — and eventually at local watering holes in Los Alamos and White Rock.

The free lecture series is a joint project between the Bradbury and the Los Alamos Creative District.