Ellen Stofan

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Ellen Stofan

Birth: February 24, 1961

Specialty: Geologist

Major Contributions:

Former Chief Scientist at NASA

Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Former John and Adirenne Mars Director of Smithsonian Air And Space Museum Under Secretary for Science and Research at the Smithsonian

Image: Wikimedia

It was on March 25th over 360 years ago that Saturn’s largest moon, and the second largest moon in the solar system, Titan, was discovered. According to one of the researchers who studied Titan, Dr. Ellen Stofan, the geology of the satellite greatly resembles that of the Earth.

That resemblance is one of the things that interests Stofan, who was trained as a geologist at the College of William and Mary and in geological sciences at Brown University, earning her doctorate in 1989. She was a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab for nine years before becoming a senior research scientist and vice president of Proxemy Research.

As part of the team that was responsible for the analysis of the radar data being sent back by the Cassini spacecraft, she helped to conclude that Titan has evidence of active geology including volcanoes, ridges and other tectonic features. But the radar also shows evidence of lakes on the surface of Titan, a surface that is a negative 290 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 179 Celsius, meaning that these lakes are not liquid water like on Earth but are possibly made of organic materials. 

In 2009 Proxemy Research submitted a proposal to send a boat of sorts to land on one of these lakes and collect data. Dr. Stofan was the principal investigator for the Titan Mare Explorer that was designed to take data for 6 Titan days, or 96 Earth days, and would gather information on temperature, pressure, humidity, and turbidity much like a weather buoy collects data here on Earth. 

In 2012 the explorer was up for funding through the Discovery Program with NASA but it was not selected for implementation.  In 2013 Stofan was selected to fill the role as Chief Scientist at NASA, a role she filled until the end of 2016. 

For the past few years, she has been a leader in various capacities at the Smithsonian Institution. First as the John and Adreinne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum and then as the Under Secretary for Science and Research. In her current position she heads up many areas of research and programming especially in the areas of biodiversity, climate change, global health, sustainable communities, and environmental justice.

Written by Angela Goad


Exploring Titan by Boat: A Lecture by Dr. Ellen Stofan

Smithsonian: Dr. Ellen Stofan

Wikipedia: Ellen Stofan

Profile | Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist

LinkedIn: Ellen Stofan

See Also:

NASA: Office of the Chief Scientist

We the Geeks: Women Role Models

Signs of Alien Life Will Be Found by 2025, NASA’s Chief Scientist Predicts

Wikipedia Titan Mare Explorer