Adriana Marais, a quantum physicist and lecturer at The University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, has qualified in the top 100 people selected to partake in the Mars One expedition. The project will send four astronauts at a time to establish permanent residence on Mars every two years, starting in 2024. Through her work in the science field she was presented with a fellowship award at the Women in Science Awards by the Department of Science and Technology. Last year, she received the L’Oreal-Unesco regional fellowship award as well as the Best PhD Biophysics Talk at the South African Institute of Physics Conference. She is also very passionate about promoting science to the youth of South Africa through this project. Marais raises funds through public speaking events to pay R500 000 or so for one top South African matriculant, who could not otherwise afford it, to study a BSc at the University of Cape Town, starting in 2017.
I Am Driven By | I am curiosity driven. The allure of the unknown for me has always felt far more powerful than the comfort of the known. I am passionate about asking questions and striving for answers. I am lucky to do this as my job as a researcher! While we have not yet discovered ‘what life is’, we are certainly lucky to be alive during such an exciting time in the history of life on Earth: We are able to investigate terrestrial life on scales down to the femtosecond and Angstrom, as well as look to the skies in the search for evidence of life and its precursors many millions of miles beyond the planet we have called home for the last four billion years.
At the moment, an exciting idea for me is understanding what makes a bunch of molecules different from the bunch of molecules that make up a living thing. I also love travelling to new places around the world to share ideas with other researchers.
My Highlights | I believe my greatest challenges and achievements lie ahead. Perhaps it’s my not so great memory, but I do not dwell on the past. I think I must be a kind of extremophile, thriving in challenging situations, and in this sense moving to Mars would be an ideal opportunity! The greatest motivation for me to give up life on Earth would be to be a part of the discovery of evidence of life on Mars, in my opinion the single most profound possible contribution of science to humanity.
Principles I Live By | I believe that education is a privilege that comes with the responsibility to share knowledge. I am involved in the promotion of science and space exploration as a volunteer for the Foundation for Space Development South Africa, an exciting initiative of which is the Africa2Moon project. Hopefully I can help to inspire people to never let anyone extinguish their curiosity or their belief in themselves. These are the tools to discover great things.
Dealing With Doubt | Almost every day I experience doubt- about whether I am good enough to achieve my goals, whether I will be able to manage my schedule, or whether my dreams are unrealistic… But I don’t allow myself to dwell on these thoughts. A legend with whom we were lucky enough to share time on this planet, Nelson Mandela, said “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. At the end of the day persistence and belief in yourself and your visions of the future are the tools with which you can succeed. As Eleanor Roosevelt said “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
It is crucial to spend time around people who encourage and mentor you and not people who are negative and put others down. Encouraging others and seeing them succeed is always a good way to find inspiration for yourself.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | I am a firm believer in balance in life. When I have work to do, I concentrate fully on the task at hand and always do my best to do an excellent job. I am only able to do this because I also make time to relax. I spend a lot of time outdoors, enjoying nature and exercising (running and kung fu). I love spending time eating, drinking and socialising with friends. I listen to music every day. I love sleeping! I believe that a calm mind is essential to performing well in both professional and personal environments, and also to be alert enough to identify and make use of opportunities as they present themselves.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I want to be the most improbable human that I can be. I am prepared to give up my life here for the unprecedented contribution I would be able to make to the sum of human knowledge from a new world. I want to be one of the first citizens of Mars.
Billions of years of evolution of life on Earth have culminated in the possibility of us calling another planet home for the very first time. Untold discoveries lie in wait, including the possibility of finding evidence of life there, which would be a giant leap in terms of understanding who we are, where we come from and where we are going. I would be prepared to sacrifice a lot for this idea, this adventure, this achievement, that would not be my own, but that of all humanity.
Advice On Building Wealth | Don’t do it for the money! Our increasingly materialistic society is losing sight of what is truly valuable. What is important is using our finite resources here on Earth, or perhaps elsewhere, wisely.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I question everything! I was lucky that my parents encouraged my curiosity as a child, while teachers and friends through the years may had their patience tested at times… However, curiosity is a defining characteristic of being human. Some people are intimidated by science, but I always try to explain that science is simply a framework that we have developed in trying to answer all the questions we have about the reality in which we find ourselves. Nothing more, nothing less.
I am a theoretical physicist (I have a PhD in an area called quantum biology) and a problem solver. I spend my days thinking about fundamental questions about the world around me. As a researcher, being one of the first human minds to experience living in a totally new world would be a dream come true. The possibility of contributing to the discovery of evidence of life on Mars would get me out of bed each morning.
I think I must be a kind of extremophile, thriving in physically and mentally challenging situations, and in this sense moving to Mars would be an ideal opportunity! Tomorrow I am off to a 10 day silent retreat, I applied to the South African National Space Agency to join the Antarctica take-over team this December, and will be running the Two Oceans Ultramarathon next year.
I have a firm set of beliefs: I believe that leaving Earth is necessary for the long-term survival of our species. But also that surviving the relatively hostile environment on Mars will lead to new technologies that will help us on Earth — to tackle climate change, poor resource management and the poverty in which so many of us live. Life on Mars will be a precious and fragile resource, and I believe that an attitude of deep appreciation for life and all that is needed to sustain it will characterise morality on Mars. And also, I hope, influence the way people think on Earth.
If I can encourage people to do what makes them human: to question and to dream, then my job here on Earth or beyond will be done.