Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D., Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA: 2017

School of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences

Major: Planetary Science

Minor: Biochemistry

B.A., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: 2012

Major: Earth Systems, Planetary Science Concentration, & College Scholar

Minor: Dance

Saint Francis High School, Mountain View, CA: 2008


NASA Civil Servant. NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 05/2010-Present.

Biomarker Preservation: Current research focused on the preservation, distribution, and detectability of organics and biomarkers in some of the oldest and driest regions on Earth. It included field work in the Atacama Desert and an icy-worlds analog in the Antarctic and Iceland as well as extensive laboratory work to extract biomarkers from these challenging natural samples. I am working to understand how to best detect and characterize universal molecular biosignatures such as lipids, amino acids, and proteins from modern and ancient planetary analog environments.

ExCALiBR Instrument: Leading an effort to design and develop a miniaturized fluidic system to extract and prepare organic molecules (particularly lipids and macromolecular organic matter) from regolith. This system, named ExCALiBR (Extractor for Chemical Analysis of Lipid Biomarkers in Regolith) for future astrobiological and life-detection missions will extract and concentrate organics from approximately 50 grams of regolith using a fluidic and microfluidic sample processor made of materials compatible with non-aqueous solvents required for extraction, integrating traditional laboratory techniques.

PhD Dissertation Research. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 08/2012-08/2017.

• Characterizing the preservation of biomarkers in Mars analog environments to elucidate potential targets for future exploration and interpreting data being collected on the surface of Mars today.

• Science team collaborator on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. Work focused on analyzing gas chromatography/mass spectrometry laboratory studies to aid in interpretation of rover data.

• Conducted studies of biomarker preservation in the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Antarctic Dry Valleys, which are two of the oldest and driest deserts on Earth and are excellent terrestrial analogs for the moisture conditions and soil chemistry occurring on the surface of Mars.

• Investigating the ability of unaltered pyroclastic glass deposits to concentrate and preserve organic material with ToF-SIMS.

• Analyzing ancient hydrous minerals on Mars using the CRISM spectrometer coauthored manuscripts about hydrated salts on recurring slope lineae and carbonates on Mars.

• Researching the performance of flight instrumentation or flight-like techniques to understand carbon content in analog samples using Raman, GC-MS, Evolved Gas Analysis, and immunoassays.

Public Policy Intern. NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. 05/2013-08/2013.

• Wrote drafts of the 100-page Announcement of Opportunity for the Mars 2020 Rover for the Mars Exploration Program Office. Also contributed to projects regarding Mars sample caching and Solar System education and public outreach at a programmatic level.

Television Presenter. KQED Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) & Spine Films,

San Francisco, CA 01/2013-08/2013.

• Hosted pre-pilot episode of a Mars human exploration themed show about the physical and mental challenges of long-duration spaceflight.

Science Team Project Manager. Cornell University Violet Satellite Project, Ithaca, NY 08/2008-12/2011.

• Obtained and conducted thermal/vacuum testing and calibration of a UV/Vis spectrometer to launch aboard Cornell’s cube-sat Violet. Additionally, led a group of students in developing and assessing feasibility of science objectives for the instrument.

Researcher. Cornell Microbiology Department, Ithaca, NY 08/2009-12/2011.

• Conducted interdisciplinary undergraduate thesis work in geobiology studying cyanobacteria and biosignatures in a thrombolitic bioherm using molecular methods.

Research Assistant. Cornell Earth & Atmospheric Science Department 05/2011-12/2011.

• Conducted metamorphic petrology research on garnets obtained from northern New Mexico

Research Assistant. Cornell Astronomy Department 08/2008-05/2010.

• Analyzed Spitzer Space Telescope and Palomar Observatory data studying Young Stellar Objects.

Space Life Science Summer Intern. NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX 06/2010-08/2010.

• Analyzed human factors data involving scientific productivity collected from astronauts and scientists working in submersibles as a part of the Pavilion Lake Research Project.

Research Assistant. NASA Ames Research, Moffett Field, CA 06/2006-08/2009.

• Summer internships and part time research focused on analysis of liquid-water features and hydrous mineral deposits excavated by impacts on the Martian surface using remote-sensing spectrometers (CRISM), imagers (MOC, HiRISE), and laser altimeters (MOLA).

Research Assistant. SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA 03/2008-08/2008.

• Part time work organizing SETI databases.


· 2017 NASA Ames Honor Award: First Best Paper

· 2016-2017 P.E.O International Scholar Award Recipient

· 2016 NASA Mars Exploration Program Student Travel Grant for Biosignature Preservation Conference

· 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 Civil Servant, Distinguished Performance Rating

· 2013-2016 NSF Graduate Fellowship Recipient

· 2015 NASA Five Year Service Award

· 2015 The Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters: Mars Student Travel Grant to attend the Astrobiology Science Conference

· 2014 NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award

· 2013 Georgia Tech D.C. Internship Stipend

· 2013 Lunar & Planetary Institute Career Development Award

· 2012-2015 Georgia Tech President’s Fellowship

· 2012 NSF Graduate Fellowship Honorable Mention

· 2010-2012, Cornell University Presidential Research Scholar

· 2007 NASA Ames Honor Award: Student


1. Davé, A., Wilhelm, M., Stucky, T., Furlong, M. P., Bywaters, K., Glass, B., ... & Rask, J. (2018). What the Atacama Can Tell Us About Subsurface Mars. In Earth and Space 2018: Engineering for Extreme Environments (pp. 369-379). Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers.

2. Wilhelm, M.B., Davila, A.F., Parenteau, M.N., Jahnke, L.J., Abate, M., Cooper, G., Kelly, E.T., Parro, V., Villadangos, M.G., Blanco, Y., Glass, B., Wray, J.J., Eigenbrode, J.L., Summons, R.E., Warren-Rhodes, K. Constraints on the Metabolic Activity in Atacama Surface Soils Inferred from Refractory Biomarkers: Implications for Martian Habitability and Biomarker Detection. (2018) Accepted, Astrobiology.

3. Williams, A.J., Eigenbrode, J.E., Floyd, M., Wilhelm, M.B., O’Reilly, S.O., Stewart Johnson, S.S., Craft, K.L., Knudson, C.A., Andrejkovicova, S., Lewis, J.M.T., Buch, A., Glavin, D.P., Freissinet, C., Summons, R.E., McAdam, A., Benison, K., Navarro-Gonzalez, R., Malespin, C., Mahaffy, P.R. (2018). Recovery of Fatty Acids from Mars Analogs by TMAH Thermochemolysis for the Sample Analysis at Mars Wet Chemistry Experiment on the Curiosity Rover. Submitted, Astrobiology.

4. Mogul, R., Vaishampayan, P., Bashir, M., McKay, C., Schubert, K. E., Bonaccorsi, R., ... & Wilhelm, M.B. (2017). Microbial Community and Biochemical Dynamics of Biological Soil Crusts Across a Gradient of Surface Coverage in the Central Mojave Desert. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8, 1974.

5. Wilhelm, M.B., Davila, A.F., Eigenbrode, J.L., Parenteau, M.N., Jahnke, L.L., Liu, X.L., Summons, R.E., Wray, J.J., Stamos, B.N., O’Reilly, S.S. and Williams, A., 2017. Xeropreservation of functionalized lipid biomarkers in hyperarid soils in the Atacama Desert. Organic Geochemistry, 103, pp.97-104.

6. Wray, J. J., S. L. Murchie, J. L. Bishop, B. L. Ehlmann, R. E. Milliken, M. B. Wilhelm, K. D. Seelos, and M. Chojnacki (2016). Orbital evidence for more widespread carbonate-bearing rocks on Mars, J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 121, doi:10.1002/2015JE004972.

7. Ojha, L., Wilhelm, M. B., Murchie, S. L., McEwen, A. S., Wray, J. J., Hanley, J., ... & Chojnacki, M. (2015). Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars. Nature Geoscience, 8(11), 829-832.

8. Heldmann, J. L., Schurmeier, L., McKay, C., Davila, A., Stoker, C., Marinova, M., & Wilhelm, M. B. (2014). Midlatitude ice-rich ground on Mars as a target in the search for evidence of life and for in situ resource utilization on human missions. Astrobiology, 14(2), 102-118.

9. Wilhelm, M.B. and Hewson I. (2012). Characterization of thrombolitic bioherm cyanobacterial assemblages in a meromictic marl lake (Fayetteville Green Lake, New York). Geomicrobiology Journal 29:8.

10. Foing, B.H., Wilhelm, M.B., et al. (2011). Field astrobiology research in Moon-Mars analogue environment: instruments and methods, International Journal of Astrobiology 10:3.

11. Lim, S.S.D., Brady, A.L., and PLRP Team... Wilhelm, M.B., et al. (2011) A Historical Overview of the Pavilion Lake Research Project – Analog Science and Exploration in an Underwater Environment. Geological Society of America Special Paper 483.


1. “Abzu: A Mission to Uncover the Origin of Organic Material on Mars,” Dec 12, 2019 (poster) American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

2. “AGU Townhall for Early Career Scientists,” Dec 10, 2019 (panel, invited). American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

3. “Novel Life Detection System Coupling Lipid Extraction with Raman Spectroscopy” (poster, invited). Ames Research and Technology Showcase (ARTS), November 7, 2019. Moffett Field, CA.

4. “Atmospheric Dispersal of Contamination Sourced from a Human Habitat on Mars” (poster, invited). Ames Research and Technology Showcase (ARTS), November 7, 2019. Moffett Field, CA.

5. “Decontamination Procedures for Non-Aqueous Life Detection Microfluidic Systems” (poster, invited). Ames Research and Technology Showcase (ARTS), November 7, 2019. Moffett Field, CA.

6. “The Preservation, Distribution, and Detectability of Lipid Biomarkers in the Atacama Desert and Implications for Mars,’ (oral, invited). Astrobiology Lecture Series, Johns Hopkins University. November 1, 2019, Baltimore, MD.

7. “Life on Mars? A primer on astrobiology, perspectives from Mars-like places on Earth, & thoughts on the future of the search for life on Mars,” (oral, invited). University of North Dakota Space Studies Symposium, May 9, 2019, Grand Forks, ND.

8. “Lipid Biomarker Content in 0.25 Ga Boulby Mine Salt Deposit & Implications for Mars,” (poster) The Seventh Annual ARC Space Science & Astrobiology Jamboree, Moffett Field, CA.

9. “The Preservation, Distribution, and Detectability of Biomarkers in the Atacama Desert and Implications for Mars,” (Oral, invited), September 6, 2018. University of Tennessee Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Knoxville, TN.

10. “The Truth is Out There: NASA’s Search for Life Beyond Earth,” May 8, 2018 (panel, invited) Silicon Valley Comic Con, San Jose Convention Center.

11. “NASA’s Journey to Mars: One Small Step and One Giant Leap,” May 7, 2018 (panel, invited) Silicon Valley Comic Con, San Jose Convention Center.

12. “Constraints on the Metabolic Activity of Microorganisms in Atacama Surface Soils Inferred from Refractory Biomarkers: Implications for Martian Habitability & Biomarker Detection,” (oral, invited), April 4, 2018. Space Science Symposium, NASA Ames Research Center

13. “Careers at NASA” (panel, invited) February 25, 2018 American Women in Science, Stanford, CA.

14. “Scientific Exploration of Mars on Earth,” (oral, invited) August 11, 2017 Lassen Volcanic National Park's Dark Sky Festival.

15. “Mars on Earth: Science and Engineering in the Driest Place in the World,” (oral, invited) May 16, 2017, NASA Ames Research Center.

16. NASA Leadership Panel to Mountain View Business owners, (oral, invited) May 12, 2017 NASA Ames Research Center.

17. “NASA in Silicon Valley’s Red Planet Science,” (panel, invited) April 23, 2017, Silicon Valley Comic Con, San Jose, California.

18. “Notes from the Field: Lake Untersee Antarctica,” March 21, 2017, NASA Ames Exobiology Branch, Moffett Field, California.

19. “Critical Assessment of Biosignature Detection with Raman Spectroscopy on Biologically Lean Soils,” (poster), March 7, 2017, NASA Ames Space Science Jamboree, Moffett Field, California.

20. “Xeropreservation of Functionalized Lipid Biomarkers in Hyperarid Soils in the Atacama Desert,” (oral, invited) September 8, 2016: Center for Astrobiology, Mardid, Spain.

21. Preservation of Lipid Biomarkers Under Prolonged and Extreme Hyperaridity in Atacama Desert Soils (& Implications for Mars)” (poster), May 16, 2016: Mars Biosignature Workshop, Lake Tahoe, California.

22. Preservation of Lipid Biomarkers Under Prolonged and Extreme Hyperaridity in Atacama Desert Soils (& Implications for Mars)” (poster), December 16, 2015: American Geophysical Union Conference, San Francisco, California.

23. Division of Planetary Science Panel (oral, invited) November 13, 2015: Russell Senate Office Building, Washington D.C.

24. “Water on Mars & Biosignatures” (oral, invited) October 8, 2015: Google, Mountain View, California.

25. “Preservation of Lipid Biomarkers Under Extreme and Prolonged Dryness in the Atacama Desert” (oral), September 25, 2015: NASA Ames Space Science Seminar Series, Moffett Field, California.

26. “PRESERVATION OF LIPID BIOMARKERS IN THE ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE.” (poster), July 17, 2015: The Astrobiology Science Conference, Chicago, Illinois.

27. “The Search for Habitable Environments and Signs of Life in the Solar System” (oral), March 4, 2015: Atlanta Science Tavern, Atlanta, Georgia.

28. “The Atacama Desert: Notes from the Field” (oral), October 21, 2014: Breakfast and Learn, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

29. “Identification of Biomarkers in Volcanic Analog Mars Analog Environments” (oral), October 17, 2013: Georgia Institute of Technology Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Graduate Symposium, Atlanta, Georgia.

30. “Organic Entrainment and Preservation in Volcanic Glasses” (poster and oral), August 5, 2013: Analog Sites for Mars Missions II: Past, Present and Future Missions to Mars, Washington, D.C.

31. “Curiosity: Results from the Mars Science Laboratory” (oral), July 15, 2013: NASA HQ, Washington, D.C.

32. “Structural Variation in the Ancient Phyllosilicates at Mawrth Vallis, Mars” (poster), March 21, 2013: 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, Texas

33. “Desert Extremophiles and Martian Habitability” (oral), October 12, 2012: Geophysics Seminar, Georgia Institute of Technology Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Department

34. “Characterization of thrombolitic bioherm cyanobacterial assemblages in a meromictic marl lake (Fayetteville Green Lake, New York)” (poster) October, 2011: Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, Cornell University

35. “Your local early-Earth analog: Microbial ecology of a modern-day microbialite in Green Lake, Fayetteville, NY” April 11, 2011: Cornell Astronomy Department’s Planetary Lunch Seminar Series

36. “The Biosignatures and Microbial Ecology of Cyanobacterial Communities in an Early-Earth Analog Lake in Fayetteville, NY” (oral presentation) April, 2011: The National Undergraduate Research Conference

37. “The Violet Satellite Project” (poster) April, 2011: The National Undergraduate Research Conference

38. “Ejecta-Excavated Subsurface Clays Detected in SW Arabia Terra, Mars.”

(poster) December, 2011: Meeting of the American Geophysical Union

39. “Mars Analog Research” March 5, 2010, Cornell Astronomical Society Public Lecture Series

40. “Life On ‘Mars’- Adventures at the Mars Desert Research Station” March 1, 2010: Cornell Astronomy Department’s Planetary Lunch Seminar Series

41. “Diving Deep for the Moon and Mars: The Pavilion Lake Research Project” October 26, 2009: Cornell Astronomy Department’s Planetary Lunch Seminar Series

42. “The Future of Lunar Exploration” (panel discussion) July 20, 2008: Lunar Science Conference at NASA Ames Research Center

43. “Correlation of Regional Topography and Martian Gully Orientation” (poster) October 2008: Division of Planetary Science Conference

44. “Correlation of Regional Topography and Martian Gully Orientation” (poster) April 2008: Astrobiology Science Conference

“Downward Regional Topography toward Craters Containing Martian Gullies” (poster) February 2008: Houston Gullies Conference



Lake Untersee, Antarctica

Sampling lake microbial mats and freeze-dried biomass, geological mapping over a two month time frame in a remote field camp.

Atacama Desert, Chile

Primary field site for PhD Dissertation research. Sampling for lipid biomarkers and microbial habitability in the hyperarid core and across the precipitation gradient in the Yungay region.

Esja Plateau, Iceland

Research project to understand the habitability and biomarker preservation in gully systems.

British Columbia, Canada

Pavilion Lake Research Project Field Assistant, analyzed productivity and scientific return data from NASA/CSA astronauts and scientists working in submarines.

Central Andes Mountains, Argentina

Field Mapping in the Central Andes (Cornell course)

Southeastern Utah Desert

Organized and led three two-week Mars simulations (Crews 73, 86, 87) at the Mars Desert Research Station. Conducted a number of human factors experiments involving heads-up displays and small-scale imaging, sample collection, and field-testing of the University of North Dakota NDX-1 Space Suit.

Mojave Desert National Preserve, California

NASA Spaceward Bound lecturer and bacterial soil crust study.

Northern New Mexico Mountains

Mapping and garnet sample collection in northern New Mexico mountains (undergraduate research project)

Death Valley, California

Field Methods in Volcanology in the SW US (Georgia Tech course), and perchlorate sampling.

San Rafael Desert, Utah

Cryptoendolithic microbial habitat study in the San Rafael Desert, Utah

Ries Crater & Eifel Volcanic Region, Germany

Impacts and Volcanism in Germany (Cornell course)

North Dakota Badlands

Spaceward Bound Participant studying glacial features for application to Mars

Mount Palomar Observatory, San Diego

Observed of young stellar objects with Cornell astronomers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Field Assistant for snow coring for extremophiles.


· August 2018-Present: Master’s Committee member for Denise Buckner (University of North Dakota). Overseeing work regarding decontamination of lipid biomarkers.

· June 2019-Present: Co-Mentor of Jennifer Piaseczny (UC Davis). Project to study the potential atmospheric dispersal of contamination from a future Mars habitat.

· Summer 2019: Mentor of Seanna Fess (Carnegie Mellon). Project to study the efficiency of lipid extraction techniques.

· Summer 2018: Mentor of Sara Debic (Johns Hopkins University). Project regarding the preservation of lipid biomarkers in Icelandic and Atacama gully systems.

· June-December 2018: Co-Mentor of Raquel Rodrigues (University of Porto). Project to develop biosensors to detect fatty acids.


Teacher’s Assistant for “How to Build a Habitable World” at Georgia Tech (2014): Responsible for teaching short lectures, leading laboratories, administering and grading quizzes twice weekly for ~30 undergraduates. Course was an astrobiology-themed elective course geared toward non-science students focused on topics ranging from reactions taking place within a star, climate change, evolution, and the search for life in the universe.


· Center For Life Detection Science (Member): an astrobiology research coordination network managed by NASA for the search for extraterrestrial life.

· The Explorers Club (Member)

· Chaired Session at the 2015 Astrobiology Science Conference about martian habitability

· PBS KQED Science Contributor (02/2014-12/2014): Contributing short science blogs for the KQED Science website science (

· President: The Planetary Society at Georgia Tech (07/2013-05/2015): Responsible for organizing local education and public outreach events.

· The Planetary Society (2007-present)

· The American Geophysical Union