Darlene Lim
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Darlene Lim

Darlene Lim
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
United States[1]
Alma materUniversity of Toronto PhD Geology 2004; Msc. Geology 1999
Queen's University BSc.H. Biology 1994
Known forNASA analog research
Home townEdmonton, Alberta, Canada
Scientific career
InstitutionsNASA Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, California
Doctoral advisorMarianne Douglas
Other academic advisorsJohn Smol

Darlene Sze Shien Lim is a NASA geobiologist and exobiologist preparing astronauts for the scientific exploration of the Moon, Deep Space and Mars.[2] Her expertise involves Mars human analog missions, in which extreme landscapes like volcanoes and Arctic deserts serve as physical or operational substitutes for various planetary bodies.[3] She has become a leading public figure for Mars exploration, having presented her missions publicly at academic institutions and public events around the world. She has also discussed her work for various media groups such as NPR, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.[4][5][6]


Lim is a first-generation Canadian;[7] her parents emigrated from Singapore and she was born in Kingston, Canada.[1] She grew up "spending time in the Canadian Rockies, and watching Jacques Cousteau on TV."[8] She studied biology while an undergraduate at Queen's University, and credits Professor John P. Smol with igniting her interest in limnology, the study of lakes and ponds.[1]

Lim completed a doctoral degree in geology from the University of Toronto.[9] She was already working on NASA-sponsored projects such as the Haughton Mars Project, which involved studying Arctic craters as simulated Martian environments.[10] She became a postdoctoral researcher with Christopher McKay at NASA's Ames Research Center in 2004,[3][11][12] and later became a NASA staff scientist and project leader.[13][14]

Public outreach

In popular media

Lim has completed dozens of radio interviews with the CBC throughout her PhD[15] From 2008-2009, Lim's work was part of POLAR-PALOOZA: Stories from a Changing Planet, a traveling exhibit sponsored by the NSF and NASA.[16] She was the lead guest on the NASA Ames podcast in 2016.[2] A profile of her Mars-simulation colony in Hawaiʻi (BASALT) appeared in the Chicago Tribune.[17] Lim appeared on the SAGANet/SpaceTV Ask an Astrobiologist! streaming program in 2017.[18] She appeared twice on the Science Friday radio hour in 2018, contributing a 25-minute segment about undersea volcanic exploration tuned in to by over a million listeners.[6][19] Lim participated in the Frontiers for Life in Space panel at the MIT Media Lab.[20][21] She was a judge in the HP "Home Mars" VR competition in 2018.[22][23] In 2019, she will present the opening lecture of the newly renamed Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).[24]

Volunteer service

Lim serves on the Ocean Exploration Advisory Board of NOAA.[25] She served as a Scientist-in-Residence at the government of Canada's "Marsville" program from 2000 to 2002.[26][27] From 2009 to 2015, she served as Co-Chair of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group Goal IV (Prepare for Human Exploration).[21] Lim founded the Haven House Family Shelter STEM Explorer's Speaker series, which enabled NASA and academic researchers to conduct education and outreach programs with shelter-based children in the San Francisco Bay Area.[28][29]

Research and exploration

Lim has taken a decidedly nontraditional path, choosing government labs and public-facing space research over a traditional academic career. As an exobiologist, Lim has explored extreme environments worldwide, from Hawaiʻi[4][30] and Florida to the Arctic[31] and Antarctic.[29][32] By studying extreme habitats on earth, researchers like Lim hope to gain insights into conditions that human explorers might face on Mars or other planets.[33] The physical, mental, and operational demands involved in real field science and exploration, under extreme conditions, are comparable to those involved in space exploration missions, giving astronauts an opportunity to train as field scientists and develop and test team protocols and technology.[34]

In 2000, Lim was an inaugural crew member in the first-ever Mars simulated colony in the Arctic, the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS).[35] She participated at the simulated base at Haughton impact crater on Devon Island, Nunavut in both 2000 and 2001.[36]

In 2004, Lim established the Pavilion Lake Research Project in British Columbia, Canada, to study chemical and biological characteristics of microbial geologic formations underwater. She extrapolates from limnological and paleolimnological investigations of bodies of water in the Canadian High Arctic to Holocene climate change and to potential paleolake regions on the surface of Mars.[37] In a 2017 interview, newly minted astronaut Zena Cardman specifically credited Lim, who gave her an opportunity to work at Pavilion Lake, with sparking her interest in NASA exobiology projects.[7][38]

Lim is the Principal Investigator of SUBSEA, a biogeochemical analogue study for life on other planets.[5][6][13][39] Lim has been a principal investigator in the 2018 Lihi Seamount Expedition on the Exploration Vessel Nautilus,[8][40] exploring an underwater volcano near the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.[41] The work is supported by the Ocean Exploration Trust, as part of an initiative of Robert Ballard to explore and map the deep ocean.[42][43] This work examines science related to future robotic exploration of Europa and Enceladus, two Solar System moons with potentially habitable environments. SUBSEA also studies ocean exploration as an analog to future human spaceflight concepts such as Low Latency Telerobotics.[44]

In 2018, Lim and colleague Jennifer Heldmann scouted extreme environments in Iceland in anticipation of a new mission kick-off in 2019. The preparations are being made to support possible missions that could send people to the Moon and to Mars in 2030.[45]

Awards and honors


  1. ^ a b c Jacobs, Gail (19 January 2011). "Life at the SETI Institute: Darlene Lim - Exploring the Watery Depths of Limnology". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ a b Colen, Jerry (16 November 2016). "Darlene Lim Talks About The Challenges of Doing Science on Mar". NASA. Retrieved 2018.
  3. ^ a b Fazekas, Andrew (8 April 2005). "Life on the Edge: Adventures of an Extremophilic Scientist". Science. Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ a b Stirone, Shannon (27 August 2018). "NASA is preparing for future space missions by exploring underwater volcanoes off Hawaii". Popular Science. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ a b Ives, Mike (28 May 2018). "Kilauea Volcano's Lava Fields Offer Scientists a Portal to Mars". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "Darlene Lim". Science Friday. Retrieved 2018.
  7. ^ a b Mervis, Jeffrey (29 June 2017). "NASA's new astronaut corps features an abundance of scientific talent". Science. Retrieved 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Darlene Lim". Nautilus Live. Retrieved 2018.
  9. ^ Forrest, Alexander L.; Laval, Bernard E.; Pieters, Roger; S. S. Lim, Darlene (January 2013). "A cyclonic gyre in an ice-covered lake". Limnology and Oceanography. 58 (1): 363-375. doi:10.4319/lo.2013.58.1.0363.
  10. ^ "Life on Mars?". University of Toronto Magazine. 24 June 2000. Retrieved 2018.
  11. ^ Lim, Darlene (2011). "A historical overview of the Pavilion Lake Research Project--Analog science and exploration in an underwater environment". In Garry, W. Brent; Bleacher, Jacob E. (eds.). Analogs for planetary exploration. Geological Society of America. p. 88. ISBN 9780813724836. Retrieved 2019.
  12. ^ "Christopher McKay - BASALT". Retrieved 2018.
  13. ^ a b "Darlene Lim - SUBSEA". Retrieved 2018.
  14. ^ Vafidis, Jen (17 September 2012). "The Most Surreal Lake in the World Is a Portal to Some Very Weird Things". Motherboard. Retrieved 2019.
  15. ^ "SHAD's top 16 stories for 2016 include Rhodes scholars looking to make living conditions better for indigenous Canadians". SHAD Empowering Change Makers. Archived from the original on 3 December 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  16. ^ Sutterfield, Carolyn (2008). "ASTC Notes" (PDF). ASTC Dimensions: 21-22.
  17. ^ Kaplan, Sarah. "How NASA is rehearsing for a mission to Mars". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2018.
  18. ^ "Ask an Astrobiologist with Dr. Darlene Lim". SPACETV.NET. Retrieved 2018.
  19. ^ "A Deep Ocean Dive Is Training NASA For Space". Science Friday. Retrieved 2018.
  20. ^ Ekblaw, Ariel. "Beyond the Cradle 2018 Speakers". MIT Media Lab. Retrieved 2018.
  21. ^ a b Bell, Katy Croff. "Scientific Analogs and the Development of Human Mission Architectures for Ocean and Space". MIT Media Lab. Retrieved 2018.
  22. ^ Wilson, Kate (17 August 2018). "This is what a city of one million people could look like on Mars". Georgia Straight Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2018.
  23. ^ Langnau, Leslie (14 August 2018). "HP Mars Home Planet premieres virtual reality experience". Design World. Retrieved 2018.
  24. ^ "SSERVI Director's Seminar: Darlene Lim (postponed until end of furlough)". Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. Retrieved 2019.
  25. ^ a b "Keynote Speakers". Women in Space. Retrieved 2018.
  26. ^ "Announcements - Marsville in Action: What is Marsville?". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2009.
  27. ^ "An interview with Darlene Lim". Imagiverse Educational Consortium. Retrieved 2018.
  28. ^ a b "2019 Women of Discovery Awards". Wings WorldQuest. Retrieved 2019.
  29. ^ a b "Darlene Lim | FINESSE". spacescience.arc.nasa.gov. Retrieved 2018.
  30. ^ Williams, Kimberly (14 December 2016). "NASA field test focuses on science of lava terrains similar to early Mars". phys.org. Retrieved 2019.
  31. ^ Lim, Darlene S. S.; Kwan, Christine; Douglas, Marianne S. V. (14 June 2001). "Periphytic diatom assemblages from Bathurst Island, Nunavut, Canadian High Arctic: An examination of community relationships and habitat preferences". Journal of Phycology. 37 (3): 379-392. doi:10.1046/j.1529-8817.2001.037003379.x. ISSN 0022-3646.
  32. ^ "NASA to send submarine to Antarctica looking for temperature-resistant life". Tech2. 15 August 2018. Retrieved 2019.
  33. ^ Cockell, C. S.; Lim, D. S. S.; Braham, S.; Lee, P.; Clancey, B. (2003). "Exobiological Protocol and Laboratory for the Human Exploration of Mars - Lessons from a Polar Impact Crater" (PDF). Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 56: 6. Retrieved 2019.
  34. ^ "Dec 1 2011: Astrobiology of Lakes". UCLA Institute for Planets and Exoplanets. Retrieved 2019.
  35. ^ Zubrin, Robert (2004). Mars on Earth : the adventures of space pioneers in the high Arctic (1st trade pbk. ed.). New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. pp. 151-178. ISBN 978-1-58542-350-7.
  36. ^ "Darlene Lim". High Lakes 2006 Science Expedition. Retrieved 2019.
  37. ^ Lim, Darlene S.S.; Cockell, Charles S. (October 2002). "Paleolimnology in the High Arctic implications for the exploration of Mars". International Journal of Astrobiology. 1 (4): 381-386. doi:10.1017/S1473550403001265.
  38. ^ Grush, Loren (9 June 2017). "A SpaceX engineer and marine biologist explain how they got picked to be NASA astronauts". The Verge. Retrieved 2018.
  39. ^ "NASA to Send Submarine to Seafloor Near Hawaii Next Week". News18. 14 August 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  40. ^ Woodman, Jenny (1 September 2018). "Ocean Exploration Fueled by Girl Power". Proteus. Retrieved 2019.
  41. ^ "Exploring Lihi Seamount with SUBSEA". Nautilus Live. 17 August 2018. Retrieved 2019.
  42. ^ "2018 Nautilus Expedition". Nautilus Live. Retrieved 2019.
  43. ^ Shea, Rachel Hartigan (18 October 2013). "Discoverer of the Titanic Is Mapping Underwater America". National Geographic. Retrieved 2019.
  44. ^ Powell, Corey S. (29 August 2018). "How an underwater volcano could help scientists find extraterrestrial life". NBC News (Mach newsletter). Retrieved 2018.
  45. ^ Demurtas, Alice (24 May 2018). "NASA Starts Simulations in Iceland in Preparation For Journey To Mars". The Reykjavik Grapevine. Retrieved 2018.
  46. ^ "SHAD (summer program)". Engineer Information. 11 April 2018. Retrieved 2019.
  47. ^ "About the Foundation and the Prize : Feinberg Graduate School". Weizmann Institute of Science. Retrieved 2018.
  48. ^ "History of the Pavilion Lake Research Project". Pavilion Lake Research Project. Retrieved 2019.
  49. ^ "The Wired Smart List 2013". Wired UK. 9 December 2013. Retrieved 2019.
  50. ^ "BAER's Dr. Darlene Lim Wins NASA Ames Honor Award". Bay Area Environmental Research Institute. 18 September 2014. Retrieved 2018.

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