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This is the blog of Maitri Erwin. I am a geoscientist, publisher of MaitriLAB and Back Of Town, advisor to Project Gutenberg, and Green Bay Packers football fan. More in About. Here is where you can find me. Blog posts follow below.




We did it! We made it to Pluto. It is very exciting to have followed a long-clock mission from start to finish, especially when we can use good science news. My blog post on the Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission from 9 years ago. NINE years ago.

The Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission is a 4-billion-mile journey to characterize the geology and morphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface composition and characterize the neutral atmosphere of this system. It is also a chance to study further the Kuiper Belt, an umbrella term for the space crud beyond Neptune and before our solar system ends. This “fastest spacecraft yet” took 9 hours to reach the moon after launch on 19 January, 2006 and is estimated to reach the Pluto-Charon system in July of 2015 (right before I hit middle age) and the rest of the Belt a few years after.


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The journal of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists interviewed me a few months back on the essay on integrative innovation in the geosciences I wrote for Agile Geoscience’s 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics. The essay and interview are now out in electronic form for public consumption.

The Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) Women’s Network’s article about the participation of women in SEG was just published in the Full Spectrum column of The Leading Edge. “Women are becoming a more important part of the technical workforce at a global scale. The geophysical community has been educating and training women at ever-increasing rates over the past few decades. As a profession, an industry and a society, we have much invested in this tremendous resource. Are these resources being used to their fullest potential?”

A small step forward is invariably met with two giant steps back.

Wired | Congress’s Attack On Geosciences Is A Dangerous Game “It is geoscientists who research how to find the metals, energy sources and water that we will need to continue to prosper as a nation … as resource use increases, we need more ways to make sure the supply lines for resources are open and it is Geosciences that allows this.” The irony is that the Texas Three – Lamar Smith (R-TX), John Culberson (R-TX) in the House and Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the Senate – line their pockets with oil wealth generated by the very science they have defunded.

Wisconsin State Journal | UW System Regents committee rejects proposal to fight controversial tenure changes by Legislature Let’s get something straight: this isn’t about academic tenure. First, tenure at the world-class educational and research institution that is Wisconsin is not easy to get. Second, even if it can be and is abused a bit, tenure gives liberties, academic freedoms that are the foundation of an engaging and well-rounded education. And, finally, everyone knows a modern professor’s worth, tenured or not, lies in their ability to bring in funding. What is now happening in Wisconsin, thanks to Walker and his hand-picked regents, is the continued erosion of the state university system in service of eventual privatization, using the straw man of tenure abuse.

The reality is that high-quality faculty candidates do not take offers from universities if eventual tenure is not a possibility. Along with the ever-decreasing budget, how can the University of Wisconsin even begin to stay competitive nationally and globally? For the sake of political and their own financial gain, Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature have systematically dismantled a great place of higher learning, the Wisconsin universities system and The Wisconsin Idea, the notion that the university belongs to the taxpayers who make it possible, that “the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom.”

Bob Dott Explains Stratigraphy Of Van Hise Rock And Baraboo Area

This is Professor Bob Dott, a great geology researcher and instructor from whom I learned a lot about the history and philosophy of geology through discourse and debate, tools employed well only with the professor’s and student’s ability to speak without fear of dismissal. Among other accomplishments, Dott has won multiple awards for a distinguished career in geoscience, wrote The Roadside Geology of Wisconsin and is one of those responsible for turning a key geological outcrop into a State Historic Site. I placed that picture up there as a reminder that faculty like him and his work for the science and state are what we stand to lose.

The future demands the technical innovations and human resources highlighted at the start of the post. I don’t see these happening without a federal commitment to geoscience funding combined with strong state university systems that made so many of us who work towards these goals.



My father just returned from a short trip to Chennai. Dad had the opportunity to meet a lot of people this time and, as curious Indian uncles and aunties are wont to do, a number of them asked him what his kids do in the United States. That his daughter is a geophysicist who works on highly technical, multi-million-dollar oil exploration projects at a multinational firm was often met with a mix of awe and incredulity. “You know, because the concept is alien to many of them.” The concept here being a brown Indian woman in a male-dominated profession in a male-dominated company in a foreign land. What made jaws drop more was Dad’s explanation that I was always adventurous and that my progressive mother and he encouraged it. Quel scandale. 

 A few thoughts: 

 1) He was talking to educated folks in a country that values education. You have to know what a geophysicist is before you can display the requisite amazement and discomfiture at a career woman version thereof, amirite? Jokes aside, this is the same society that proudly prints hard-won tertiary degrees on the wedding invites of their female children while the number of Indian women with great power and responsibility only increases. Yet, as these kanchipuram-clad ladies who famously placed a spacecraft in Mars orbit will attest, “female scientists who make it in their fields do so despite massive resistance, often from their own mentors and colleagues.” And families and communities that want them to be educated, but only so much. 

 2) Forget geophysics and ladder climbing when you lack basic agency, the most fundamental dominion over your own body in your country. India just banned the showing of the documentary on the 2012 gang rape and murder of Jyoti “Nirbhaya” Singh, while the state of Maharashtra made illegal beef slaughter and consumption. Beef eating = bad, misogyny and sticking head in sand over India’s rape problem = good. The safety and autonomy of a cow are more important than that of a woman. 

 3) Things are only slightly better on this landmass. Female physicists and engineers are a minority in Houston, and I’ve received many a “You’re a geophysicist?” look at my favorite restaurant down the road. In many states, rabid dogs and feral cats enjoy more compassion than black people and women, and do not get me started on “legitimate rape.” 

This is why the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network and similar groups that highlight the issues of working women and offer support and mentoring are critical. Quite often, it’s not about how women get a seat at the table and grow, but having to explain our very existence and capability.

Incidentally, Nirbhaya means “without fear.” A world without fear. Me of you. You of me.


Ok, it’s time to push the big blue bear down the page.

Programming note: We here at VatulBlog World HQ are still lying on the floor in the fetal position reeling from the decision made by the Green Bay Packers not to play the last five minutes of the NFC Championship against the Seattle Seahawks. Yup, this hurts a lot more than 4th and 26. We could have been a contender. We could have been somebody. Oh well, lots more time for the boys to settle Catan. Who me? Bitter? Noooo.



2015 marks the 200th birthday of the geologic map as we know it. Nice of Ars Technica to note this.

Like me, Shell’s John Hofmeister thinks the price of oil will be back up by the end of this year. How about a little less volatility this time around?

Another lesson to learn this cycle is not to fire new graduates and emerging leaders. Now is precisely when to get rid of expensive dead weight and invest in training and leadership. When oil rebounds and companies are looking to fill junior positions, petro-technical graduates that oil and gas demanded and who were then left out to dry will have left for other industries.

Anadarko’s Red Hawk deepwater platform will be decommissioned and turned into a reef. Topsides goes to shore for storage until it’s either reused or scrapped. (Thanks, NOLADishu!)

Gizmodo | The mysterious origin of 21 tech terms

Rock-Head Sciences | So, what’s it like to work as a geologist behind [an onshore water] drilling rig?

At least with the former industry, you will be dealing with clean water, so you may still look and feel like you just mud-wrestled a gator, but at least you just smell like your deodorant gave up a few hours ago, rather than the lovely “perfume” of gasoline or creosote that you will share with those who pass by.

The world’s simplest primer on Principal Component Analysis

This is Carnival season. The next few MaitriLAB posts will be costumes, fabulous costumes. NOLA Defender gives you the art and science of glue gunning.