SSA Board of Directors

Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; Image processing by Kevin M. Gill, © CC BY

The control and conduct of the property and business of the SSA is vested in a Board of Directors which consists of twelve elected Members. The SSA Board of Directors will hold meetings at times and places to be determined by resolution, but must meet at least twice per year.  The Board of Directors includes:

Laurie Barge

SSA Board of Directors Co-Chair
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
Research Scientist

Britney Schmidt

SSA Board of Directors Co-Chair
Cornell University:
Associate Professor

Justin Lawrence

SSA Treasurer

Honeybee Robotics:
Program Manager

Read Laurie's Bio

Laurie Barge’s research interests span astrobiology and planetary geochemistry; she studies the emergence of life on Earth (particularly focusing on how minerals affect organic chemistry), and studies hydrothermal vents as analogs for environments on ocean worlds. She received her B.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics (Villanova University, 2004) and her Ph.D. in Geological Sciences (University of Southern California, 2009), and completed postdocs with Caltech / JPL and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Laurie is the HiRISE Investigation Scientist for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and a Participating Scientist on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, co-leads the JPL Origins & Habitability Laboratory, and is a steering committee member for NASA’s Networks for Life Detection (NFOLD) and Ocean Worlds (NOW).

Read Britney's Bio

Britney Schmidt is an astrobiologist who studies how planets and planetary systems work especially ocean worlds, using a range of tools from spacecraft to laboratory experiments to polar exploration with robotic platforms. She received her B.Sc. in Physics with a minor in Planetary Astronomy (University of Arizona, 2005) and Masters and Ph.D. in Geophysics and Space Physics (UCLA, 2010), before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at UT Austin. She is a member of the Europa Clipper mission and former Dawn mission, a member of the science teams for multiple mission studies including LUVOIR (now Habitable Worlds Observatory), two Europa Landers, and Enceladus Orbilander. She has served on the NASA PAC and OPAG committees, the AAS DPS leadership committee and federal relations subcommittee, is a member of the NSF GEO advisory committee and Planetary Society Board of Directors, and is a co-founder of the SSA.

Read Justin's Bio

Justin Lawrence (@lawrenjk) is a planetary scientist & astrobiologist working on human and robotic solar system exploration at Honeybee Robotics in Altadena, CA. Justin recently earned his Ph.D. from Georgia Tech in 2022. As a NASA fellow in graduate school, he worked primarily to help develop and deploy the underwater vehicle (ROV) Icefin (@icefinrobot), and to blend robotic observations with microbiological sampling to study habitability below Antarctica's ice shelves.

Laura E. Rodriguez

SSA Corresponding Secretary

Lunar and Planetary Institute / USRA:
Staff Scientist

Ellen C. Czaplinski

SSA Recording Secretary

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
JPL Postdoctoral Fellow

Suniti Karunatillake

SSA Member Officer

Louisiana State University:
Associate Professor

Read Laura's Bio

Laura Rodriguez is a prebiotic chemist aiming to understand the geochemical evolution of genetic precursors and develop machine learning methodologies to characterize the organic geochemistry of samples analyzed by missions, returned samples, and prebiotic analogs. She received her B.Sc. in Geochemistry (Rice University, 2013), a dual-title Ph.D. in Geosciences and Astrobiology (Penn State, 2019), and completed a postdoc at NASA JPL. She is a Mars Science Laboratory Participating Scientist, lead for the Future Leaders of Ocean Worlds, member of the PCE3 Science Communication Team, and a member of the Mars Sample Return Campaign Science Group.

Read Ellen's Bio

Ellen Czaplinski is an organic chemist who performs laboratory experiments simulating the surface and subsurface of planetary bodies to help constrain chemical environments that surface missions might encounter. She received her B.Sc. in Planetary Science (geology concentration; Purdue University, 2016), and her Ph.D. in Space and Planetary Sciences (University of Arkansas, 2021). She is a collaborator on the Dragonfly mission, a committee member for the Division for Planetary Sciences publications subcommittee, and a member of Future Leaders of Ocean Worlds.

Read Suniti's Bio

Using compositional remote sensing of planetary surfaces as windows to geology and habitability, Karunatillake's group targets unknowns of the rock cycle on bodies like Mars, such as the formation of sedimentary rocks in the Amazonian eon, pathways of dust production, variations in magmatic systems of volcanic provinces like Elysium, and provenance of exotic salts like perchlorates in planetary soils. Karunatillake completed his BA at Wabash College, IN (2001); PhD at Cornell University, NY (2008) advised by Dr. Steve Squyres; and postdoctoral research at Stony Brook University, NY (2011) advised by Dr. Scott McLennan. As a member of the 2001 Mars Odyssey Mission and the Mars Exploration Rover mission, he has led the characterization of martian chemical provinces. His methodological developments on the synthesis of planetary datasets have led to chapters in planetary textbooks like "Remote Compositional Analysis: Techniques for Understanding Spectroscopy, Mineralogy, and Geochemistry of Planetary Surfaces.” Karunatillake is currently leading an englacial Mars mission concept development as part of LSU’s expansion of its goals as a space grant institution.

Michael Gaylor

SSA Board Member

Small Molecules Technology ∙ Bayer US:
Research Scientist & Analytics Team Lead

Tiffany Kataria

SSA Board Member

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
Research Scientist

Jeffrey Marlow

SSA Board Member

Boston University:
Assistant Professor

Read Michael's Bio

Michael Gaylor is a prebiotic chemist focused on characterizing the capacity of planetary minerals to catalyze conversion of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to biologically useful derivatives (e.g., quinones) in prebiotic environments. Before joining Bayer in 2022, he led the Chemistry and Analytical Sciences Programs at Dakota State University where he developed the first Astrobiology-focused undergraduate research program in that school’s history. He holds a BS in Honors Biology (Christopher Newport University), a MA in Chemistry (The College of William and Mary), and a Ph.D. in Marine Science (The College of William and Mary). At Bayer, he uses prebiotic chemistry to inform development of new consumer products.   

Read Jeffrey's Bio

Jeffrey Marlow is a geobiologist interested in the close connections between microbes and minerals in a range of environments such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents, seafloor methane seeps, and new volcanic rocks. He received his PhD from Caltech in 2016 and worked as a postdoc at Harvard University from 2016-2020. Jeff is a member of the Deep Submergence Science Committee and the Executive Director of the Ad Astra Academy, an educational organization that uses the inspirational power of exploration to encourage students to pursue STEM fields. 

Carl B. Pilcher

SSA Board Member

Blue Marble Space Institute of Science:
Research Scientist

Edgard G. Rivera-Valentín

SSA Board Member

Staff Scientist

Daniella Scalice

SSA Board Member

NASA Astrobiology Program &

Read Carl's Bio

Carl Pilcher has been fully retired from NASA since 2016.  He was Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 2006 to 2013 and Interim Director from 2014 to 2016.  Prior to that he served in several positions at NASA Headquarters including Assistant Associate Administrator for Strategic and International Planning, Science Director for Solar System Exploration, and Senior Scientist for Astrobiology.  Earlier he was on the faculty of the Institute for Astronomy and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  He holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (1968), a Ph.D. in Nuclear Chemistry from M.I.T. (1973), and an M.P.A. in International Relations from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (1987).  In 2013 he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the highest honor bestowed by NASA on a federal employee.

Read Edgard's Bio

Ed Rivera-Valentín is a planetary scientist whose work focuses on applications for planetary protection policies and planetary defense strategies. In their work, they study planetary habitability and, in particular, brines as an ecological system on Mars and across the Solar System. Ed received a B.A. in Physics and Mathematics (Alfred University, 2008), a Ph.D. in Space and Planetary Sciences (University of Arkansas, 2012), and completed the NASA JPL Planetary Science Mission Design School in 2011. Additionally, Ed is a Science Editor for the AAS’ Planetary Science Journal, a member of the National Academies’ Committee on Planetary Science and Astrobiology, and a NASA Early Career Fellow recipient. 

Read Daniella's Bio

Daniella Scalice is the Education and Communications Lead for NASA’s Astrobiology Program and the Community-Based Education Lead for NASA’s MAIANSE Program.  Her background is in molecular biology and filmmaking.  Through projects like the NASA and the Navajo Nation Partnership and Astrobiology for the Incarcerated, Daniella’s work is devoted to ensuring youth of all races, cultures, genders, abilities, walks of life, and ways of loving and praying have equal access to opportunities in STEM and are supported to excel in everything they do, especially toward healthy social, cultural, and economic lifeways. Daniella is a settler colonialist who lives and works on Piscataway Lands in the occupied territories known today by some as Annapolis, Maryland, United States.  She co-stewards a farm in Northern New Mexico where she hopes to one day make her home and serve the local community.