Assistant Professor: Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences
Amy Williams always dreamed of being a scientist, and after completing a geology course in her freshman year of college, she found her passion. At TU, she found a “perfect fit for what I want to do in my career.”
“I wanted to work at a university that emphasizes student instruction, but allows me to keep my research moving forward,” explains Williams. “At Towson University, faculty members are dedicated to effective teaching, but they also are on the cutting edge of research in many fields and they value student research experiences.”
For the last seven years, Williams has been a member of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) rover mission, most recently on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team. “I am interested in the processes that preserve microbial life in the rock record on Earth and how we can search for similar evidence of life, or biosignatures, in the rocks on Mars,” describes Williams. NASA’s goal for the Curiosity mission is to characterize environments that would be suitable for life if it existed on Mars, and Williams says the rover can drill and locate molecules made by some form of life that might be preserved in the rocks.
“It is fulfilling to work on a mission that answers some fundamental science questions,” says Williams. “It is my job now to pay it forward and give my students an opportunity to join the 400-plus scientists working on the mission and contribute to what we know about our place in the universe.”
Undergraduate research students in her lab use a state-of-the-art tabletop scanning electron microscope to look at bacteria preserved in oxidized rocks in Iron Mountain, California, to begin to understand the preservation process. “The ability to work on the Mars mission is a big leg up for our students and makes them more marketable for the next step in their careers,” adds Williams.