By day, the 68-year-old is an Episcopal priest, main a congregation at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, in Glen Burnie, Maryland.
It has lengthy been acquired knowledge that science and the humanities, to say nothing of science and faith, are mutually incomprehensible domains that take a look at fully completely different issues. That concept has been crumbling lately, when tutorial specializations have given strategy to interdisciplinary approaches.
Skilled as a geologist, amongst different disciplines, Conrad has completely different concepts.
“There isn’t any conflict between science and faith,” she mentioned. “Each examine the surprise of the world and our place in it.”
Of rocks and folks
This crossing of disciplinary strains hasn’t been straightforward, no less than not for the pioneers, who needed to overcome a number of institutional resistance.
“The tutorial system forces college students to be both scientists or humanists. It does not acknowledge that the identical spirit and a few of the similar methods underlie each artwork and science,” graphic designer and pc scientist John Maeda, a former MIT Media Lab professor, as soon as instructed me.
“Our aim needs to be to supply Renaissance individuals who take a cross-disciplinary method to issues, da Vincian people who find themselves fascinated about every little thing and may do every little thing.”
“I studied every little thing,” Conrad mentioned. A fast take a look at her credentials reveals simply that da Vincian individual of whom Maeda spoke.
She earned all her levels at George Washington College within the US capital, beginning as a music main who, alongside the way in which, found geology and was smitten. She took a number of science programs her first 12 months and a half earlier than closing in on a bachelor’s diploma in music in 1974, then added a grasp’s diploma in music composition — she was considering a profession as an opera singer — in 1987. She returned to science to finish a doctorate in geology in 1998.
Underlying that “terminal” diploma was an curiosity in how life fashioned in unpromising conditions, reminiscent of thermal vents deep down on the ocean flooring. Due to a type of right-place, right-time moments, as she recounts, she chanced to fulfill the famend director James Cameron, who had taken the proceeds from movies reminiscent of “Titanic” and constructed a submersible analysis vessel. Due to deep-sea footage Cameron shot for a 3D IMAX movie, footage that he later put to work within the science-fiction function “Avatar,” Conrad was capable of examine thermal vents in additional element than any researcher had seen so far.
The 12 months after she earned her doctorate, NASA — searching for scientists to work on geobiological features of the Curiosity rover — employed her as a contractor on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, managed by the California Institute of Expertise.
“We are attempting to know if the processes that allowed life to develop and flourish on Earth ever occurred on Mars. In the event that they did, we wish to know if life appeared — and, if not, then why not?” she instructed an interviewer from her alumni journal not too long ago. It is a query whose reply she pursues as actively immediately as she did on first being employed in 1999.
Turning to the spirit — and returning to Mars
It wasn’t till a lot later in her life that Conrad turned to the examine of faith. After experiencing an epiphany on a wind-blasted day throughout a piece journey to Antarctica, she rejoined the Episcopal Church of her youth, then entered the Episcopal Divinity Faculty in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
She accomplished a grasp’s diploma in divinity in 2017, simply as the varsity grew to become affiliated with Union Theological Seminary in New York Metropolis. Quickly afterward, she assumed management of her Maryland congregation.
When NASA turned up the warmth on the Mars Perseverance Rover mission at about the identical time, one among her experiments was chosen for inclusion. This one is a collection of devices referred to as SHERLOC (Scanning Liveable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemical substances), which, she mentioned, “was not mature sufficient” to discover a place on earlier missions.
It is meant to search for microbial life, with instruments that embrace a vibrational spectrometer that may determine minerals and natural molecules discovered on the Martian floor — reminiscent of hydrogen and carbon, the constructing blocks of life on Earth. It additionally contains two high-resolution cameras.
“Placing all this collectively concerned an enormous crew of individuals,” she mentioned, “and I am only one individual on that crew.”
Looking for life on Mars is not her prime precedence anymore, although.
“I wish to make this very clear,” Conrad mentioned. “My first job, and my first duty, is now because the pastor of a church. What you see on Sunday is simply part of it. I’ve duties to my parishioners and their wants, and in the long run, individuals have to return first. Persons are much more tender than rocks.”
Even so, she logs loads of hours in her now part-time function in issues Martian, working from her dwelling workplace because the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The schedule is breakneck and, to make certain, holding down two jobs could be greater than slightly exhausting.
Drained or not, there are classes she needs to impart whereas appearing as a priest. Foremost, Conrad insisted, is the sacredness of all issues.
“Understanding that’s simply one of many instruments that individuals must stay an excellent life, to stay in group and to deal with one another nicely. My different lesson, I suppose, is the advantage of going gently, of dwelling quieter and extra considerate lives.”
The pandemic, she provides, made for the proper alternative to mirror on that, and to deepen her mission with these classes in thoughts.
Onward to the celebrities
Her inquiry has broadened with the addition of a clerical function to her scientific one: the query of whether or not life can exist on different planets is reshaped to one thing extra like, “If God can create life right here, can God create — and has God created — life elsewhere?” The reply to that query, Conrad mentioned, is easy: “In fact.”
That life, she added, is prone to be microbial and easy, and never the ETs of our creativeness. However it will likely be life, and that is a quest that retains Conrad motivated and nonstop busy.
However will she ever enterprise into area? Do not rule it out.
Gregory McNamee writes about books, science, meals, geography and plenty of different subjects from his dwelling in Arizona.