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Museum Mars expert on a soapbox

Dr Natasha Stephen joins women scientists on London's South Bank this weekend to debate important extraterrestrial questions.

The scientists will be talking to the public about their work this Saturday 29 June 2014 as part of Zoological Society of London's Soapbox Science.

The event has been running for four years and works to eliminate gender inequality in science by raising the profile of women and science by creating an open platform for debate. 

Events will be taking place in London, Bristol, Dublin and Swansea. 

Dr Stephen, a Martian meteorite expert, will be talking about her work at the Museum and how it relates to plans to put astronauts on Mars within 20 years.

'People are generally very interested in Mars and it's my job to equate my work analysing meteorites in the lab with asking what they think the first humans on Mars are likely to encounter and whether they'd like to go,' Dr Stephen said. 

'For example, Mars won't actually be red when they get there, and there are more volcanoes there than on Earth, even though they're no longer active.'

Mars is one of our closest neighbours and geologically similar, so one of the most important questions is, why is it geologically dead, why did everything stop functioning?'

Despite Curiosity's ongoing work on the surface of Mars, because there are no sample returns yet, working on meteorites in the Museum's collection is one of the best ways to learn about Mars and prepare the future astronauts who might be working on the surface.

Why Mars?

Dr Stephen, who will also be taking part in the Museum's free Science Uncovered festival in September, said two recurring questions people ask her are why we fund space science at all and why Mars and not the moon.

'I do play devil's advocate sometimes, just to get things doing. But it's very nice to be able to explain my work.'

Some of the other topics to be discussed include the impact of aerosols on the weather and how mathematics can be used to help control infectious diseases.