Roving on the Red Planet

ASU astrogeologist will discuss the impact of rovers on Mars


ISROMars as seen from the Indian Space Research Organization’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft.


Soon after NASA landed its first remote-controlled rover on Mars in 1997, an avalanche of data fired back 94 million miles to Earth quickly began to revolutionize scientists’ understanding of the storied Red Planet.

Today, after nearly two decades of collecting stunning photos of the planet’s landscape, along with a treasure trove of chemical analysis of Mars’ rocky soil, scientists have drawn such a sharp picture of Mars’ true nature that it sets the stage for a manned mission to the planet that NASA is planning to launch sometime in the 2030s.

Exactly what the Mars rovers (there have been four deployed so far) accomplished in their missions is the subject of a presentation by a leading Mars researcher on March 24 at the Challenger Learning Center’s IMAX Theater. James Rice, an astrogeologist from the Mars Spaceflight Facility at Arizona State University, will present “Wheels on Mars: The Adventures and Discoveries of the Mars Rovers” beginning at 7 that evening.

The program is the second event in the 2016 HORIZONS Spring Speaker Series sponsored by the Tallahassee Scientific Society, a local nonprofit organization. The series has run from February through May each year since 2012.


James W. Rice Jr., PhD, the astrogeologist Mars exploration rover scientist, stands in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Rice is a specialist in the geology of both the moon and Mars. He’s spent more than 25 years conducting geological research for both NASA and other government agencies and often at some of the most remote places on Earth (including, as a diver, beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica).

At ASU, he leads the Mars program’s geology team that since 2004 has studied more than 100,000 images captured by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity and analyzed hundreds of samples of rocks and soil collected from both the planet’s surface and from underground.

“Our discoveries have rewritten the scientific book on Mars,” Rice said. “We’ve found abundant evidence for past water activity in the form of ancient lake beds, hot springs and geysers, streams and rivers. All of this information paves the way for astronauts to explore Mars.”

Only two of the Mars rovers are still working. After 12 years, Opportunity is still climbing steep Martian slopes while the $2.5 billion Curiosity, which landed in 2012 and is by far the largest and most sophisticated rover of them all, fires a steady stream of high-resolution images and data almost daily to NASA headquarters.

Doors to the Challenger Center will open at 6 p.m. and tickets will be on sale in the lobby. Tickets also may be purchased in advance by visiting the Society’s website at Cost is $8 for members and $15 for non-members.

The series resumes in April with a presentation by acclaimed honeybee biologist Tom Seeley of Cornell University. Seeley, author of three books on the behavior and social life of bees, will present “The Amazing Swarm: How Honeybees Get Smart” on April 28.

Tallahassee Democrat

Science series opens with ‘Secret Lives of Grouper’


Tallahassee Scientific Society begins its spring speaker series at the Challenger Center on Feb. 25 with a talk on the “Secret Lives of Grouper.” (Photo: Leonardo Buenos)

Frank Stephenson
11:21 p.m. EST
February 20, 2016

From savory sandwiches to gourmet-grilled delights, grouper rank among the world’s finest and most popular seafood fare. So popular, in fact, that demand has long outstripped supply by commercial grouper fleets operating around the world.

Surprisingly, despite groupers’ (there are at least 20 species in the Gulf of Mexico) enormous appeal, scientists have struggled to fully understand how groupers behave in the wild. Sketchy knowledge about how and where groupers grow and reproduce plagues government efforts around the world aimed at protecting and conserving them from over-harvest and potentially irreversible collapse.


Chris Koenig

One of the leading and most successful champions of collecting hard-to-find data on grouper biology is Christopher (Chris) Koenig of FSU’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory. On the evening of Feb. 25, he will present “Deep Science: The Secret Lives of Grouper,” a presentation at the Challenger Learning Center’s IMAX Theater downtown. The talk opens the fifth annual HORIZONS Spring Speaker Series, a four-month-long program sponsored by the Tallahassee Scientific Society, a local nonprofit organization.

Koenig said his talk will summarize findings he’s made over the past 30 years on three of the Gulf’s most important grouper species, namely the gag grouper, the red grouper and the largest grouper on the planet, the goliath grouper. All three species are managed by federal and state laws that have grown increasingly tighter during the past two decades.

Because their numbers were found to be shrinking at an alarming rate, in 1990 goliath grouper (formerly known as jewfish) were closed to harvest throughout the Southeast, a protected status that has now helped the massive fish rebound throughout the Gulf. Koenig has conducted research on the goliath’s feeding, spawning and habitat-building behavior throughout the Gulf, in Brazil and in French Guiana.

Much of Koenig’s research has been used by government fishery managers to forge better fishing laws for both commercial and sports fishermen. He has served many years on various scientific committees tied to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the predominant fishery regulatory body within the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Koenig’s contributions include the creation of two marine reserves located 50 to 75 miles off the beaches off Apalachicola in the Northeastern Gulf. Established in 2000, these reserves serve as remote laboratories for Koenig and other scientists to study how and when grouper aggregate for spawning purposes as well as many other aspects of their behavior.

Koenig’s talk, which will include rarely seen video of groupers in their deepwater Gulf habitats, also will feature rare recordings of groupers’ “language.” Koenig characterizes this audio — captured at depth — as “wild sounds, all related to courtship and aggression.”

The series resumes March 24 with a presentation by Mars specialist James Rice of the Mars Spaceflight Facility at Arizona State University. He’ll present “Wheels on Mars: The Adventures and Discoveries of the Mars Rovers,” an overview of NASA’s rover missions that began in 2004.

If you go

What: Lecture on “Deep Science: The Secret Lives of Grouper”

When: The talk begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb.25

Where: Challenger Center, Kleman Plaza

Tickets: Cost is $8 for members and $15 for non-members. Purchase in advance by visiting the Society’s website at They also will be available at the door on the night of the talk.
Tallahassee Democrat

Engaging the Public on Climate Change

As a Jefferson Science Fellow, Alice Bean worked with the Office of Religion & Global Affairs at the US Department of State in 2014 – 2015 on climate change and environmental issues.  The office works to implement the National Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement which includes building partnerships on environmental issues.  With the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties meeting in December in Paris, there were and continue to be great opportunities for physicists to interact with policy makers and the general public.  As an experimental particle physicist, much was learned about climate change science, how the public views scientists, how science can influence policy, but most especially how to communicate about science.

Dr. Bean will present at a colloquium, February 11th, at  3:45 pm, 101 Richards Undergraduate Physics Laboratory, on the FSU Campus


2016 Regional Middle and High School Science Fair


High school and middle school students interested in science need your help. Please consider serving as a judge for the annual Capital Regional Science and Engineering Fair on Friday, February 12, 2016.  Winners of high school or middle school science fairs in Jefferson, Leon or Wakulla counties will compete at the Capital Regional Science and Engineering Fair in Tully Gym on the Florida State University Campus.  We will need more than 200 judges for evaluating student projects, so your help is very important for a successful fair.  Regular Judging will take place from 8:00 a.m. until 12 p.m. on Friday, February 12th, 2016 followed by Overall Judging from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. Students who win the Capital Regional Science and Engineering Fair can proceed to state competition. Some may even continue further to international competitions.

If you are interested in judging, please complete the online judge registration form here by Friday, January 22, 2016.  Each project is entered in a specific scientific category, the categories and their descriptions can be found on the judge registration web site above. When registering, select all categories you feel qualified to judge.  Also indicate whether you intend to stay for the free lunch sponsored by local middle and high schools.  Once you have successfully submitted your online form, you will receive a copy via email.  If you have any problems, please contact me at (850) 644-9828 or email me at

On behalf of our student participants, we would like to thank you in advance for considering this service opportunity and helping with our regional science fair.

Bill Turner
CRSEF Judge Coordinator
1062 King Life Science Building
Tallahassee, FL  32306-4295
(850) 644-9828

Gold Medal Awards & Membership Social

DSCN6217Each fall, the Society invites members to attend a free get-together that features catered food and a social hour that serves as a prelude to the presentation by the Society’s Gold Medal Honoree.  This award, established in 2004, is annually bestowed by the Society on a scientist or scholar selected from the Tallahassee community whose career achievements in science or science education and outreach are deemed exemplary.

This year’s nominee is Dr. Harrison Prosper, the Kirby Kemper Professor of Physics at FSU.  He is a high-energy physics researcher and played a significant role in the discovery of the Higgs boson.  His research interests include high-energy physics, cosmology, advanced analysis methods and Bayesian statistics.  He is a dynamic lecturer and “high-energy” applies to his delivery of subject material as well as to his study of physics.  He was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of his efforts to advance science or its application.

His presentation for the evening of the Award Ceremony is entitled “CERN: In Search of a Smooth Stone.”

The Gold Medal Award Ceremony and Membership Social are for Tallahassee Scientific Society Members only and reservations to attend must be obtained.  Please click here to make your reservations on Eventbrite.

For a complete list of the Society’s Gold Medalists – “The Tallahassee Scientific Society’s Gold Medal Winners” click here.