Wendy Calvin
Research Scientist
U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona

How I Got Here

I did not know that I was going to be a planetary scientist until halfway through graduate school. As a kid I was pretty good at math and science, but also liked to run around and play softball. I grew up in Colorado, first in Littleton (near Denver) then in Douglas County, which in the late '70s was still mostly ranch land. I had a great physics teacher in high school but also was very active in drama classes and school plays. When I got to college at the University of Denver, I didn't know whether I should major in physics or theater, but in the end I figured I'd get a better job as a physics major. I ended up with a minor in geology because I thought field trips were loads of fun. I still remember the first fossil I found: I was in sixth grade when we went on a class trip to a place that had lots of shale (clay that has been compressed into rock) and I came home with a shark tooth! I still have that tooth, and later found out the shark's name, tychodys, a creature that ate shells millions of years ago.

In addition to enjoying being outside whenever possible, I also really liked my physics lab classes. After I earned my Bachelor's degree I needed some time off so I went to work for Ball Aerospace. There I did lab tests on silicon chips (called CCDs) that take pictures from space, characterizing how well they measured light in different colors. After working for two years I was ready to go back to school and the Univ. of Colorado was right there in Boulder so I started taking physics classes. After a year I knew physics was not for me and switched to geophysics. Eventually, I started research in remote sensing, looking at other planets from far away. I've been doing that for 10 years, gradually refining my "specialty" and getting a Ph.D. in 1991. I had a research fellowship and spent a year in northern Germany, which was too rainy and flat. I jumped at the chance to come back to the western United States and have been in Flagstaff for four years.

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