Meet 2019 Forward under 40 Award Recipient Ali Bramson’11

UW Major: Astrophysics and Physics
Age: 29 | Tucson, Arizona
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona

When humans launch the first crewed expedition to Mars, there’s a chance planetary scientist Ali Bramson has found them a friendly spot to land.

From a laboratory in Arizona, Bramson studies some of our solar system’s most frozen frontiers:
ice, lava flows, and glaciers on Mars; ice on the moons of Uranus; and cryovolcanic eruptions (with lava that consists of water and ice rather than molten rock) on the dwarf planet Ceres.

Bramson found her calling for the interdisciplinary nature of planetary science during her time at UW–Madison. In addition to her degrees, she earned a certificate in computer science, which she has found very useful in her career. Participating in summer undergraduate research programs and attending scientific conferences also provided giant leaps toward achieving her dream to explore space. “I fully realized my passion for planets, especially characterizing their surfaces using data from spacecraft missions — robots in space!” Bramson says.

In 2015, Bramson’s work attracted the world’s attention with a most intriguing find. Using images collected by NASA spacecraft, Bramson’s research team zoomed in on an area in Arcadia Planitia, a flat, icy region in Mars’s northern reaches where craters are common. But they found one crater with peculiar terracing that showed
layers below the surface.

The big find? The crater had formed due to a meteorite impact into one of the red planet’s most massive ice sheets: 130 feet thick, it covers an area as big as California and Texas combined. Sites like this are potential locations where Mars-bound astronauts could start their exploration, since the availability
of frozen water may be crucial to their survival.

Bramson, a proud alumna, refers to the location as “Badger Crater,” although it hasn’t been officially named yet.

Through her ongoing planetary research using spacecraft radar, Bramson works with colleagues to broaden what Earthlings know about the climate of Mars. Most importantly, she wants to tell you all about it.

“While my research on other planets doesn’t necessarily directly affect people’s day-to-day life, I apply the Wisconsin Idea by speaking about my science,” Bramson says. “If I learn something new about the universe but don’t convey that information to anyone, then what was the point?”

Photo courtesy of Ali Bramson

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