PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR OF SUPERCAM
Dr. Roger Wiens
Leader of the SuperCam Team
Roger Wiens is the Principal Investigator of SuperCam and one of the co-investigators of SHERLOC.
Born and raised in a small town in Western Minnesota, Roger had always wanted to make a positive impact on humanity, and aspired to be a teacher or an international aid worker when he was young. He also had a fascination with space science and exploration. In the fourth grade, he began building a telescope with his brother. They purchased a six-inch mirror, eyepieces and a mount, and bolted their homemade telescope to a plywood board, finishing it just in time to sketch the features of Mars during its close approach—the same year that the first spacecraft (NASA’s Mariner 9) went into orbit around Mars.
DR. ROGER WIENS
Interview with Dr. Roger Wiens, Principal Investigator of SuperCam
Interviewer: Dr. Adam Hopkins
Dr. Adam Hopkins: I’m very happy to have Roger Wiens here, with, on the video link today from NASA. You care to tell us a little about yourself, Roger.
Dr. Roger Wiens: Yes, so. Roger Wiens, I am the principal investigator of the SuperCam instrument that sits up on the mast of the Perseverance rover. And then also a co-investigator on SHERLOC, which is on the arm of the rover.
And I’m coming you to you from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, where we built a a good part of SuperCam instrument, and we also built part of SHERLOC here as well.
Dr. Adam Hopkins: Nice. So you’ve got two instruments that you are involved with on this mission and I guess there’s, the first thing I thought was, there’s a whole lot of different things on these instruments. Could you just describe them a little bit briefly?
Dr. Roger Wiens: Yes, Adam. So, first of all I’ll describe SuperCam—it’s the one that I’m leading. And, so it is a telescope that sits up there on the top of the mast and we use that telescope to project laser light, two different light wavelengths. And then we use the telescope also to collect light, both for those spectral techniques and then also for high resolution imaging. And then finally for passive infrared as well, visible in infrared. And so we have all of those techniques bound up in one instrument.
We have four spectrometers. One is an infrared spectrometer that sits up on the mast and then the other three spectrometers sit in the body of the rover. They get their light from a long optical fiber that comes down from the mast and transmits that light into the body of the rover. And there we get light all the way from 240 nanometers in the ultraviolet to 850 nanometers out there in the very near infrared.
And so we have two reflection spectrometers there that we use for laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy and then the third one that’s used for several different things. It’s a high, well it’s a transmission spectrometer with an intensifier in it so we use that for remote Raman spectroscopy.
Most people use Raman spectroscopy in a microscope or in, you know, in situ. We actually are projecting the laser light out several meters away from the rover and then getting a few photons back using an intensifier and time gating to do remote Raman spectroscopy, which not so many people know about.
We also use the same spectrometer also for the LIBS and then for passive visible spectroscopy as well. And then we have the imager and we also have a microphone that’s sitting out in front of that telescope. So that is SuperCam.
And then SHERLOC is out on the arm of the rover, and SHERLOC also uses Raman spectroscopy but in a very different way. SHERLOC uses ultraviolet laser beam at 248 nanometers and it uses this ultraviolet range, both to get more enhanced Raman in the CW mode, in situ or proximity, say with the arm right up against the rock. And then it, you get fluorescence as well at the longer wavelengths. But at those very short wavelengths we don’t actually have the fluorescence interference.
So, again, two Raman systems. They actually deal with the, with the fluorescence, which can be an interference, in different ways. And we both are using the fluorescence as well for looking for organics on Mars.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE (when you were young):
International aid worker/teacher
B.S., Wheaton College, IL; PhD., University of Minnesota, both in Physics
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Developing and operating instruments for NASA; Planetary Science
ADVICE FOR FUTURE SCIENTISTS:
Exercise both sides of your brain. Be creative. Make your science spill over into the arts, seen by the public. Be spiritual, pray, and embrace philosophy. Love.
“Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration”
Playing the piano
In 2016, Weins was knighted by the government of France.
MARS MISSION 2020 ROLE:
Leader of the SuperCam instrument team. SuperCam is the remote-sensing laser instrument mounted at the top of the rover. It is operated and its data are analyzed by an international team of ~100 people in the US, France, Spain, Canada, Denmark, and Germany.
A co-investigator of SHERLOC.
WOULD YOU GO TO MARS (if it were possible)?:
No. I enjoy exploring Mars from my office and living room!
MORE IN DEPTH WITH DR. WIENS
Wiens earned a B.Sc from Wheaton College in Physics and received a NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship to study Mars meteorites at the University of Minnesota. After obtaining his PhD, he worked as a Scientist at Caltech where he remained for seven years. In 1997, Wiens made the move to New Mexico to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He started as a developer and flight payload lead of NASA’s Genesis mission, which was the first spacecraft to have returned to Earth from deep space beyond the Moon. Despite its crash landing on return, samples of the sun were successfully brought back and analyzed. The solar-wind particles showed evidence that Earth may have formed from different solar nebular materials than those that created the sun. Their findings were published in Science in 2011.1
Wiens went on to become the Principal Investigator (PI) of ChemCam on the Curiosity rover and the PI of SuperCam on the Perseverance rover, both of which were developed in conjunction with Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) in France. The more advanced SuperCam2,3 is equipped with a telescope, a camera (remote micro imager), a microphone and four spectrometers: infrared (IR) spectrometer at the top, and in the body, two reflection spectrometers for laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), and a remote transmission spectrometer with an intensifier capable of Raman spectroscopy, LIBS and time-resolved fluorescence (TRF) spectroscopy. The LIBS spectrometers also have the ability to perform passive visible spectroscopy. The spectrometers inside the body of the rover obtain their light from a long optical fiber originating at the mast. “These spectrometers get light all the way from 240 nanometers in the ultraviolet (UV) to 850 nm in the near infrared (IR) region,” says Wiens. In addition, the infrared spectrometer on the mast operates from 1.3 to 2.6 µm.
The microphone on SuperCam has picked up sounds of wind, zaps from LIBS focused laser creating supersonic plasma and blade slaps from the helicopter, Ingenuity, which give information about how sound propagates in a different atmospheric environment. The red planet consists of 95% CO2, which absorbs sound waves, and its atmosphere is 1% as thick as Earth’s and does not propagate sound very well; these effects are more significant at higher frequencies. Thus sounds from helicopter blade rotation and its first resonance have been detected, but the higher pitches present on Earth have not been heard on Mars. Wiens and his team also use sound to learn about the hardness of the rocks and whether a coating is present.
The remote micro imager on SuperCam was originally designed to have the same optics and resolution as its predecessor, ChemCam. However, in the final stages of assembling SuperCam, a major accident destroyed almost all the unit optics. Rather than calling it a disaster, Wiens refers to what happened as a miracle. They found a defect in the mirror—a slight deformation occurred at colder temperatures—and the accident provided time for the design and construction of a new mirror while the rest of the instrument was being rebuilt. The new mirror enabled the camera to capture higher resolution images as compared to ChemCam.
With advanced instrumentation aboard Perseverance and new terrains to explore on Jezero Crater, a place Wiens describes as a geologist’s playground full of big crystals and igneous rocks, the possibilities for discovery are endless. Orbital images of Jezero crater had shown a fan-shaped body believed to have once been a river delta, possibly rich in organic materials, deeming it a hot spot for finding evidence of ancient life. New images taken from SuperCam’s high resolution camera found the fan to have outcrop faces with inclined strata, which confirmed the existence of deltas that advanced into a lake. Furthermore, the upper fan strata showed boulder conglomerates with sedimentary succession, which indicated transition from a persistent lake environment to episodic high-energy flows. These results have recently been published in Science and the article was featured on the coveted cover.4
Wiens is also a co-investigator of SHERLOC on Perseverance, which uses Raman spectroscopy but in a different way than SuperCam. SHERLOC employs a deep UV laser beam at 248 nm in the continuous wave mode to get enhanced Raman signals in situ whereas SuperCam uses a pulsed laser at 532 nm to perform remote Raman spectroscopy. Both Raman systems use fluorescence signals to search for organic and other luminescing materials but have the ability to avoid interference with Raman signals. SuperCam’s laser uses a frequency doubler to convert 1064 nm light from its Nd:YAG laser to its green beam for Raman spectroscopy. To prevent the infrared and green laser beams from being emitted at the same time, a small beam stop has been integrated. A fault protection also ensures that the rover itself is not shot by the lasers.
In addition, automation assists with sample selection. Scientists at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory have developed a software algorithm called AEGIS, which stands for Autonomous Exploration Gathering Increased Science. The rover takes images and picks out the next targets without grounding the loop. “If the rover can drive to a new spot, take pictures and begin acquiring spectra, a whole day can be saved,” says Wiens.
Roger Wiens has authored a book, Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration . Wiens does not have much time to watch movies, but he enjoyed The Martian starring Matt Damon as it showed a more realistic portrayal of Mars as compared to other science fiction movies.
In 2016, the government of France knighted Wiens for his contribution in forging strong bonds between the French and American scientific communities. Wiens is one of a few hundred non-French citizens to be awarded this distinction by L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, originally instituted by Napolean I in 1808.
Wiens has faced challenges both technically and politically, but he’s learned that one has to weather the difficult times in order to reap the rewards. His optimism has always carried him through. To maintain a strong and healthy mindset, Wiens plays the piano, prays and practices gratitude. He is grateful that the things he was naturally drawn to aligned with his childhood aspirations. He wanted to do something to help the world and ended up doing something that inspires the world.
Although Wiens believes that it will one day be possible for human exploration on Mars, he is perfectly content studying the red planet from his terrestrial living room.
1) B. Marty, M. Chaussidon, R.C. Wiens, A.J.G. Jurewicz, D.S. Burnett, A 15N-poor isotopic composition for the solar system as shown by Genesis solar wind samples, Science 2011, 332(6037), 1533-1536.
2) R.C. Wiens, S. Maurice, et al., The SuperCam Instrument Suite on the NASA Mars 2020 Rover: Body Unit and Combined System Tests. Space Sci. Rev. 2021, 217:4.
3) S. Maurice, R.C. Wiens, et al., The SuperCam instrument suite on the Mars 2020 rover: Science objectives and mast-unit description. Space Sci. Rev. 2021, 217:47.
4) N. Mangold et al., Perseverance rover reveals an ancient delta-lake system and flood deposits at Jezero crater, Mars, Science 2021, 374(6568), 711-717.
MEET THE OTHER SCIENTISTS
Dr. Vivian Z. Sun
Dr. Sun helps put together the rover’s daily plans and acts as a liaison between the engineering team at JPL and science teams from around the world.
Dr. Sanford Asher
Sanford Asher, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, is involved with the development of the Raman spectrometer and the ultraviolet laser in SHERLOC.
Dr. Joseph Razzell Hollis
Dr. Joseph Razzell Hollis is a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California where he works on the SHERLOC team and plays a key role in optimizing the data analysis pipeline.
Dr. S. Michael Angel
Professor Stanley Michael Angel is a Carolina Trustee Professor and Fred M. Weissman Palmetto Chair in Chemical Ecology, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina. He currently works on the SuperCam team as a Scientific Research Collaborator and Scientific Payload Download Leader (sPDL).
Dr. Shiv Sharma
Dr. Shiv Sharma is a Tenured Research Professor at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is one of the Co-Principal Investigators for SuperCam on the Perseverance rover.
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