ODU Alumnus Mark Thiemens Gives Out-of-This-World Public Science Lecture
October 29, 2021
All the stars were in alignment as alumnus Mark Thiemens, Ph.D., gave the first in-person Public Science Lecture at the Michael and Kimthanh Lê Digital Theater and Planetarium inside the new Chemistry Building. Students, alumni, faculty and guests from the public listened to Thiemens' lecture, "Uncovering the Origin and Evolution of Life and the Solar System Using Isotope Ratios."
Thiemens, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and chancellors associate chair at the University of California, San Diego, took the audience on a trip through time on Oct. 14. He discussed what the Earth was like 3.8 billion years ago, transited the prehistoric era, led listeners to the present and even guided the audience to envision how humans could live on the moon and Mars.
Thiemens is a globally recognized scientist who has worked with NASA, military installations and multiple research institutions and facilities. He began his career as an oceanography student at ODU in the 1960s.
"If you want to leave the planet or understand the planet you live on, you must know the environment, physics, astronomy and biology because your lives depend on it," Thiemens said.
His research has taken him to Antarctica, China, Greenland, Germany, Tibet, the North and South Poles, the Old Silk Route and the Himalayas. Over his 45-year career, he's learned a lot about Earth and what it would mean to live on another planet.
Thiemens showed images of his research to better understand the beginning of time and how that evolution would impact living on another planet. "It's an honor to give a talk in this beautiful building and it's fitting to have this talk in the planetarium," Thiemens said.
Thiemens has taken samples of ice from Antarctica in minus 50-degree temperatures.
"In the South Pole, we're seeing individual events from the equator, and we learned a lot about transport and ozone cycle," Thiemens said.
He's done the same drilling in Greenland.
"The most interesting place of understanding climate is in Tibet," he said. "Tibet is so big, it influences the Indian Ocean, and if it melts, everyone in this region of the world is affected."
The question he posed to the audience was, "How do we know the climate has changed? Sea levels change. You live in Tidewater. You know this."
Through his research, Thiemens has learned "everything is connected to everything."
Following his lecture, the audience asked about isotopes, climate change and his research.
"Professor Thiemens is an outstanding researcher with an excellent international reputation," said Gail Dodge, dean of the College of Sciences. "His lecture was fascinating - he showed how his research uses concepts and techniques from physics, chemistry, oceanography and rocket science to study the origin of life on Earth and the possibility of making Mars habitable for humans."
Thiemens believes this generation will be poised to live on another planet.
"Living on the moon or Mars is important to the development of our future needs, and we can get there by understanding the environments on Earth," he said.