Look to the Red Planet and Beyond!
Written by Lauren Neitzke Adamo
Dr. Lujendra (Luju) Ojha joined the faculty in Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) in 2019 after completing a prestigious Balustein Postdoctoral Fellow and a Research Scientist, in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. He earned his Ph.D. in Planetary Science from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2016 and his B.S. in Geophysics from the University of Arizona in 2012. Luju's research focuses on the evolution of terrestrial planets and how that affects the geological processes and habitability of those planets. He uses a diverse set of tools to understand these processes, including remote sensing, laboratory simulations, numerical modeling, and terrestrial field work.
Since coming to Rutgers, Luju has published seven first-author papers, been a co-author on 4 additional papers, and written two dozen abstracts to national conferences run by the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. His work on potential ancient subterranean Martian habitability has been featured in various news outlets such as SYFY Wire, Popular Science, CNN, and he even appeared in a Mars documentary that was released in 2020 titled “Mars: One Day on the Red Planet”.
Luju is also a Co-Investigator on several NASA missions, including the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) project, and a team member of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). He recently took a road trip from New Jersey to Seattle with EPS Graduate Student James “JN” Stanley looking at different sedimentary and volcanic deposits with a Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) device. The goal of this work was to determine if radar data can be used successfully to interpret and differentiate subsurface depositional settings. The results of this study will help in the interpretation of data from NASA’s Radar Imager for Mars' subsurFAce eXperiment (RIMFAX), that is the GPR device on board the Perseverance rover. RIMFAX will provide high-resolution stratigraphic information about the subsurface of the Red Planet for the first time, and information collected by Luju will help inform how this extraterrestrial data will be interpreted.
Luju has also made significant strides in expanding the undergraduate and graduate course curriculum in the department. He has developed a new course in EPS titled Remote Sensing for Earth and Planetary Sciences, where students learn the basics of where students learn the fundamental physics behind remote sensing techniques and analyses of a variety of remote sensing datasets, including visual imagery, IR-spectroscopy, Gamma-Ray spectroscopy, gravity, magnetics, and radar. Several undergraduate students have also completed independent research studies and honors projects with Luju. These students have used remote sensing techniques and high-resolution data from Mars to explore topics such as mineral distribution on its surface, the nature of prominent Martian surface features called recurring slope lineae, and potential signs of habitability on exoplanets. These undergraduates have won several awards for their research and some have gone on to be accepted into prominent graduate programs and are working with Luju to publish their results in scientific journals.
Planetary Sciences Major, Jason Kawalec (SAS Class of 2023), had this to say about working with Luju on a research project. "I’m very grateful to Dr. Ojha for his mentorship during my summer research project in planetary science in which I investigated relative albedo trends in recurring slope lineae on Mars. Dr. Ohja was always enthusiastic to guide me through my research while also challenging me to reflect thoroughly on my results and engage with my work. I gained valuable experience working with research methods and software that are central to research in remote sensing. He is very knowledgeable but also knows how to convey complex topics to undergraduates in a way that they can understand and apply in their practical experiences. Working under Dr. Ojha’s direction bolstered my interest in pursuing a future in planetary science and conducting further research in the field. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Ojha’s expertise as my introduction to research in planetary science."
While Luju has been busy working on some of the most interesting planetary science questions and problems of today, he is also excited about the future of this field. He is looking forward to spending time pouring over all the new data from Mars, Venus, and the thousands of potential Earth-like exoplanets. With new data available, scientists like Luju, will be able to explore topics such as the geophysical history of Mars, the tectonics of Venus, and examine exoplanets like never before.