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Ralph Harvey

On Shore Scientist
Case Western Reserve University

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

My research involves the geochemical study of planetary materials (meteorites, mars rocks, and micrometeorites), but I am very broadly trained and my interests are diverse. In the last decade I've worked on.......
•Experimental studies of interactions between the crust and atmosphere of Venus
•The recovery of meteorites and micrometeorites from Antarctica
•The adhesive and other physical properties of asteroidal regolith
•Experiments simulating interactions between brines and crustal rocks on Mars and large asteroids
•Studies of the mineralogy and geochemistry of meteorites, with a focus on Martian and micrometeorites
•The recent history of polar icesheets, as revealed by ice movement networks, ice chemistry and cosmogenic radionuclide studies
•Weathering and associated mineralogical alteration mechanisms on Earth, Venus and Mars
•The geological history of Mars, with a focus on volcanism, rock/ice/water interactions, and possible source regions for the Martian meteorites
•Exploring the geochemical and climatological limits on biological activity in cryogenic settings
•Future human and robotic exploration of Mars and the asteroids.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I was 8 years old when humanity took its first steps on the Moon; and I think I've been trying to follow those footsteps ever since.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

I've had too many mentors to count, from high school to the current day. Maybe that's been rare good-fortune on my part; and of course there are some negative people out there, but in my life they've been very rare. That's one good reason to ignore them!

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

A lot of planetary materials work is primitive in the sense that our catalog of the stuff falling to Earth is really, really sparse, full of holes and samples that are utterly unique. In my Antarctic meteorite recovery work, we're still encountering stuff nobody's ever seen before on a regular basis. A single "What the heck is THIS?!?!?!" moment can feed my curiosity and scientific hunger for months.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

Before my path toward academia became clear, I worked as a painter, janitor, ballboy, bouncer, actor, singer, farmhand, carpenter, student activities director, and gas-station attendant. While the hands-on skills certainly became important in the lab and the interpersonal skills in the classroom, my experiences in drama (nearly a career) proved surprisingly valuable later as a scientist Being unafraid to speak in front of an audience, being willing to polish and practice communicating as a craft of its own, these things are invaluable to a scientist. Our work loses a lot of its value if it can't be effectively communicated with others.

What are your degrees and certifications?

BS in Geology from Beloit College, 1983; PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Pittsburgh 1990.

What are your hobbies?

staying active, reading and building/fixing things are the constants. Everything else changes all the time.

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

Helping out a friend (Marc Fries) who's got his own special skills at finding stuff falling from space!

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Understand that at the beginning you have to pay your dues to get in the doors of professional science; it's great to be brilliant, but you've got to prove it to others with great grades in tough classes in high school and in college. Then you've got to start finding unsolved problems that excite not just you but others as well. Understand that no matter how smart you are, your personal success in science is reliant on the support of others around you, by helping fund you, by becoming partners in your research, and sometimes by testing you and your ideas. Find your way as a team member and team builder rather than as a solitary individual, and the trust you create that way will pave your path toward scientific leadership.


Ralph participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: