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Dr. Dorothy Oehler

Senior Scientist

Currently resides in Houston, TX
doehler [at]
Areas of Expertise
Earth, Mars | MSL | Mission science team, Science operations | Astrobiology, Focused Ion Beam, Geology, Geomorphology, Mapping, Optical Microscopy, Raman Spectroscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy, Secondary Ion Mass Spectroscopy

Research Interests

Dr. Dorothy Z. Oehler is a planetary geologist and Precambrian paleontologist.  She is interested in using martian geomorphology to better understand the history of the planet and for predicting regions on Mars with past basin development where accumulations of organic materials and/or seeping methane could occur.

Dr. Oehler is also interested in seeking ways to identify biosignatures of potential extraterrestrial life.  This includes 1) establishing new criteria for identifying bona fide biosignatures of fragmentary remains of primitive life forms, and 2) using facies prediction to prioritize habitable sites that may preserve remnants of potential life on Early Mars.  She has been among the first to utilize Nano-scale Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (NanoSIMS) for chemical mapping of some of Earth's earliest life forms and has applied SIMS for determining the carbon isotopic composition of Archean organic structures to assess their origin and significance in the evolution of life on our planet.

Dr. Oehler was a Participating Scientist on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission (Curiosity rover) from 2012 - 2016.  In 2012, she was named the Distinguished Alumna of the Year from the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of California at Los Angeles.  In 2016, she was an invited participant in the Keck Institute for Space Studies, Caltech, Workshop, Methane on Mars.

Professional History

Dr. Oehler received her Ph. D. (cum laude) from the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of California at Los Angeles, with specializations in Precambrian life, organic microfossils and isotopic evidence of ancient life.  After that, she spent 3 years in Australia working for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) as a Research Scientist studying organic matter in Proterozoic microfossils associated with metal sulfide deposits.  Upon returning to the U.S., Dr. Oehler worked for Conoco Inc. for 22 years as a source rock specialist, where she investigated the occurrence of organic matter, oil, and gas in basins all over the world. 

She now applies that background to predicting localities on Mars where organic materials and potential evidence of past life may occur.  She has recent mission experience as a Participating Scientist on the Curiosity rover science team of Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), and she has used her background to contribute to MSL landing site selection as well as research on martian habitability, a potential ancient ocean in the lowlands of Mars, and locations of potential methane generation and trapping in the martian subsurface.

2016 - present   Senior Scientist - Planetary Science Institute

2012 - 2016       Participating Scientist - NASA Mars Science Laboratory Mission

2003 - 2016       Research Scientist - Astromaterials Research & Exploration Science, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX

1999 - 2003       Consulting Geologist, Various international petroleum exploration companies

1983 - 1999       Exploration Geologist -  Conoco Inc, Conoco (UK) Ltd., London, UK

1977 - 1983       Research Scientist - Organic Geochemistry, Conoco Inc., Oklahoma

1973 - 1976       Research Scientist - Baas Becking Geobiological Laboratory, CSIRO, Australia

Honors and Awards

2012      Distinguished Alumni Award - Department of Earth and Space Sciences, UCLA

2012      NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) - Participating Scientist Grant (4 yr) - PI

2008      Astromaterials Research & Exploration Science, Johnson Space Center - Mission Enabling Science Grant (4 yr) - PI

2007      NASA - Exobiology Grant (3 yr) – Science PI

2006      NASA - NPP Program Senior Fellow (3 yr) - PI

2004      Visiting Scholar Award - Australian Center for Astrobiology - PI

2003      NASA Exobiology Grant (3 yr) - Co-I

1973      Graduate Woman of the Year - University of California at Los Angeles

1967      Phi Beta Kappa

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