The University of Chicago Magazine

February 1997


Mars attack

Barnes has Mars on his mind.

Among the instruments aboard the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft, launched in December for a July 4 landing on Mars, is the Alpha Proton X ray Spectrometer designed and built by U of C scientists Thanasis (Tom) Economou, senior research associate in the Enrico Fermi Institute, and Anthony Turkevich, the James Franck distinguished service professor emeritus in chemistry.

Once on Mars, the U of C spectrometer--loaded onto a remote- controlled roving vehicle--will explore the landscape, bombarding rocks with alpha particles and analyzing their return signals.

That's where Johnathan Barnes, a third-year student in the College, comes in. Barnes has worked on the spectrometer since his first year at Chicago. Besides creating the computer simulations to process the information sent back to Earth, he is modifying a computer program to analyze the material.

If there's a downside, it's that Barnes foresees a "sleepless" summer: "Once the probe starts to send back information, I'm going to be working almost constantly" to make sure the programs are functioning, he says. "It will be a hassle, but I'm not complaining."

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