Professor Martha Gilmore

Martha (Marty) Gilmore

“The universe is teeming with the ingredients for life,” says Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Martha Gilmore. “When life can persist, though, that’s a different story. After all, it took billions of years for us to evolve from slimy things in the sea—a sea like Venus had, once.”

While Mars has gotten a lot of attention for its terraforming possibilities, Professor Gilmore has been keeping her eye on Venus—not only for what it can tell us about our future, but also as a clue to where else life might be possible. “Four billion years ago, there were three planets in our solar system with oceans: Earth, Mars, and Venus, and on one we know, life evolved. Yet, on Venus today there’s a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid and a 450º Celsius surface temperature.” Uncovering the reasons behind this discrepancy, Gilmore and her students are putting Earth in context with other planets and illuminating what climate change may portend for us. That’s crucial information that Gilmore and her science teams hope to gather with two NASA-funded missions to Venus scheduled for 2029 and 2031.

The freedom and support Wesleyan provides Professor Gilmore helps make this important work possible. “I wanted to start an interdisciplinary Planetary Science minor, I told the University I was going to be on these two demanding missions and they said, ‘Okay. We’ll figure it out.’ My students and I have the flexibility to do research at this level at Wesleyan, and that’s not common at a liberal arts university.”

Marty Gilmore is Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics.