The last 200 years have been socially and technologically revolutionary. They brought us the internet, the personal computer, airplanes, rockets, electric lights, antibiotics, political and economic ideologies of various kinds, women’s rights–the list goes on.
It would be fair to say that throughout the course of history, women were often overlooked or left in the background of significant events. We have also, at times, been excluded from employment or education opportunities. For example, it wasn’t until 1939 that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later on NASA), which was founded in 1915, first hired a woman for an engineering position.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the women who are making a difference, past, present, and future. Curtin University is fortunate enough to have plenty of inspiring woman, one of which is working as a senior research fellow in the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS).
Dr Katarina Miljkovic, who has been with the University since 2015, is a planetary scientist with expertise in numerical and experimental impact physics. Her research focuses on understanding the geophysics of planetary bodies through impact processes, as well as cratering mechanics, and shock physics applied to geologic materials.
On top of that, she was a recipient of one of four L’Oreal- UNESCO for women in Science fellowships in 2018, and is the only Australian working on NASA’s InSight mission to Mars.
Working in NASA is an accomplishment of itself. There are only six government space agencies in the world with full launch capacities, NASA being one of them. And their vision to “drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of Earth” has done a lot of good for all of humanity.
The InSight mission (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is described as:
“A Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough check-up since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.”
Understanding what is outside of our world is incredibly important and as InSight’s principal investigator, Bruce Banert explains:
“InSight is a mission to Mars but it’s much more than a mars mission, in some sense it’s like a time machine. It’s measuring the structure of mars that was put in place four and a half billion years ago. So we can go back and understand the processes that formed Mars just shortly after it was accelerated from the solar nebula.”
Dr Miljkovic’s role in the mission is to develop numerical models, to help understand how small meteoroid bombardment occurs on Mars and what seismic effects it has on the Martian crust. Her work will build an understanding of the structure of both the crust and core of Red planet.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Miljkovic explained “that’s what got me really excited. I’m going to work on Mars and maybe one day we can send a guy there, or a girl there, and they will be able to walk on Mars and check what I’ve predicted.”
“Mars is, in a way, a sister planet to Earth,” she explained in an interview with Whimm Magazine. “During the evolution of the solar system people believe that the Earth and Mars used to be much more similar but then something happened to Mars that changed its climate and the way it evolved. So there are a lot of connections to understanding our own origins if we’re studying Mars.”
Dr Miljkovic is setting an example for young girls and women everywhere to follow their passions. She balances being the mother of a three year old, with full time employment with the utmost grace, and is truly an inspiration to all women.
The importance of having strong women in STEM fields is unsurmountable, as the future women of science look to them for encouragement and inspiration. Women such as Dr Katarina Miljkovic are the role models we need in order to attract more girls to STEM, as they are proof that while you will always need to work hard, you don’t have to sacrifice family to be able to follow your dreams.