Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Svetlana Shkolyar

(Research Scientist)

Svetlana Shkolyar's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.5033
Org Code: 698
Mail Code 698
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

Svetlana's research interest involves life detection techniques and biosignature protocols on planetary surfaces, with emphasis on Mars. This includes multiwavelength Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy instrument development for astrobiology missions, studies of false spectral biosignatures, spectral signatures of biogenic vs. abiogenic macromolecular carbon, and protocols to aid the Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign. She is a collaborator on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and a science team member on ESA's ExoMars rover. 

In addition, she is active in engaging the mission planning research community in defining and developing life detection mission technology strategies in her work with NASA's Center for Life Detection (CLD). She is also involved with engaging the public by serving the Astrobiology Program office as a bridge between the NASA Astrobiology Program and the NASA-funded educational activities of the Science Activation program.

Research Interests

Developing tools for life detection mission planning

Solar System: Astrobiology

  • Part of the NASA Network for Life Detection (NFoLD) Center for Life Detection team, an Ames-Goddard ISFM program.
  • Informs science traceability and life detection technology definition
  • Leads the community engagement strategy of the project to increase community awareness, use, participation, and vetting in tools for life detection mission planning efforts such as the Life Detection Knowledge Base (LDKB)
  • Engages relevant communities by sharing the tool’s utility, broadening participation, and managing documentation / reporting of CLD engagement activities

Bringing Astrobiology resources and expertise to educators

Solar System: Astrobiology

  • Connects NASA astrobiology materials, subject matter experts (SMEs), and resources to the educators and partners (e.g. NASA Science Activation teams) who would benefit from using them with their learners
  • Maintains and improves existing NASA Astrobiology Program education resources

Participating in Mars mission science

Solar System: Mars


PhD, Geological Sciences, School of Earth & Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ (2016)

Dissertation: "Informing Mars Sample Selection Strategies: Identifying Biosignatures and Assessing their Biosignature Preservation Potential

MS, Space Studies, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND (2011)

Thesis: “Intrinsic Sunspot Rotations and their Potential Association with Solar Energetic Events

MA, Mass Communication, Science Track, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL (2009)

Thesis: “The NASA Shuttle Program: A local and national newspaper content analysis”

BS, Physics with Interdisciplinary Honors, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL (2007)

Thesis: “Photo-Induced Charge Movement (PICM) Sensors"

Current Projects

Development and community engagement of tools and repositories for life detection mission planning


I provide tools and expertise to bridge and enable community participation in the definition and development of life detection technologies and missions. This entails establishing awareness, building a user base, and increasing the use and sustainability of the Life Detection Forum suite of webtools.

Informing in situ biosignature searches on Mars and selecting samples for Mars Sample Return


I analyze terrestrial natural samples of various ages and diagenetic extents using Raman and UV spectroscopy instrumentation similar to that on Perseverance rover's SHERLOC and SuperCam instruments. I also served on the rover science team from 2019-2021. I use lab analog instrumentation as well as Mars analog samples to inform spectral data obtained on potential biosignature-containing samples on Mars. My current participation on the Raman Laser Spectrometer (RLS) team on ESA’s upcoming ExoMars rover mission also ensures my ongoing commitment to analyzing organic-rich samples containing potential biosignatures from spectroscopy-based payload instruments.

Understanding false positive biosignatures in UV fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy instruments


This work is based on biosignature searches using UV LIF and Raman spectroscopy instrumentation which may encounter challenges with unambiguously distinguishing spectra of organic compounds from Ce-bearing compounds. Ce3+ produces fluorescence within the spectral window often attributed to organics using instrumentation on Mars rovers such as SHERLOC. This may suggest that Ce3+ is a biosignature mimicker. This project seeks to mitigate false positive biosignature detections on Mars and other planetary surfaces.

Understanding shock signatures on Mars with Raman spectroscopy

Planetary surfaces

This work involves analyses of shock extent in Mars analog samples such as a suite of experimentally shocked natural terrestrial feldspars using Raman spectroscopy instruments considered analogous to those on Perseverance Rover (such as SHERLOC) or breadboards of such instruments (such as SuperCam).


Visiting Assistant Research Scientist

Department of Astronomy, UMD - NASA GSFC

December 2021 - Present

NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Postdoc


December 2019 - December 2021

Postdoctoral Fellow

Carnegie Institution of Washington - Washington DC

January 2017 - February 2019

Graduate Student Research Assistant

School of Earth & Space Exploration - Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe AZ

August 2011 - December 2016

NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Research Assistant

Space Studies Department - UND, Grand Forks, ND

January 2009 - May 2011

Teaching Experience

Curriculum development, grades 8-12, NASA Space Grant Scholarship, ASU, 2013-2015

Habitable Worlds, SES106, ASU, Fall 2011 – Spring 2012

Introduction to Solar System Astronomy, AST111, ASU, 2012

Discovering Astronomy, AST2002, UNF, Fall 2007

Selected Public Outreach

Outreach Presentations and Appearances

2012 - Present

  • Panelist, AbSciCon public lecture, “Where Will We Find Alien Life?", 2017
  • Panelist, Opportunities Beyond Academia Careers Panel panelist, AGU, 2017
  • Booth Host, NASA Astrobiology Booth, US Science and Engineering Festival, 2017
  • Guest speaker, “Identifying Biosignatures on Mars,” North Houston Astronomy Club November meeting, virtual webinar, 2016
  • Guest and Mentee, Arizona Mother Daughter Shine Brightly Summit, Tempe, AZ, 2016
  • Presenter, “Identifying Biosignatures and Assessing their Biosignature Preservation Potential,” National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, Stopover Astronomer, Chang Mai, Thailand, 2016
  • Panelist, Phoenix ComiCon, Mad Scientists public outreach panel, 2014 
  • Participant, NASA FameLab communication competition: Gave 3-minute TED-style talks on science concepts: Life on Mars; Graveyards on Mars, 2012-13

Spotlights on Career

2017 - Present

  • Featured in a career highlight for Earth Science Women’s Network, 2017
  • Featured in a career highlight in Newsletter of the Arizona Geological Society, 2017

Media Interviews

2021 - Present

  • Interviewed for Science Decoded Podcast on biosignature mimickers research, 2021
  • Interviewed for NASA Mars rover episode, The Debrief Podcast, 2021
  • Interviewed for Cosmic Conversations webinar series on Mars 2020 rover program and astrobiology, Academy of Sciences Morrison Planetarium, 2021
  • Panelist, NASA’s Ask an Astrobiologist panelist, Mars 2020 Rover episode, 2021

Contributions in Digital and Online Media

2014 - Present

Contributions in Print Media

2005 - 2011

S. Shkolyar. (2011). NASA Internship Launches UNF Alumna’s Career, Spinnaker, 2(35).

S. Shkolyar. (2009). People's astronomy, Engineering & Technology, 4(12), p. 26.

S. Shkolyar. (2009). Reaching for the stars, Engineering & Technology, 4(5), p. 76.

S. Shkolyar. (2008). User necessity: The mother of invention, NASA’s ASK Magazine, p. 47-49.

S. Shkolyar. (2008). Regaining the self, Engineering & Technology, 3(5), p. 16.

S. Shkolyar. (2007). Technological progress: Function of user necessity, Space Times, 5(46).

S. Shkolyar. (2006). Graduate student works on biodiesel car, UNF Spinnaker, 21(29), p. 9. 

S. Shkolyar. (2006). Research investigates origins of life, UNF Spinnaker, 18(29), p. 5.

S. Shkolyar. (2005). Spotlight: Dr. Jane MacGibbon, Astrophysicist, UNF Spinnaker, 1, p. 5.

S. Shkolyar. (2005). Biology department gives research synopsis, UNF Spinnaker, 4(29), p. 

S. Shkolyar. (2005). Seminar explains complex systems, UNF Spinnaker 19(29), p. 9.


2018, Cover Art, Astrobiology Journal, Nov. 2018 issue

2016, Outstanding Graduate Student Award (ASU)

2016, Graduate and Professional Student Association Graduate Research Award

2015, NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award

2015, Graduate Excellence Award, ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

2014, Strategic University Research Partnership Proposal (SURP)

2013, ASU Space Grant Fellowship

2013, Summer PhD Student Research Award

2011, Robert H. Goddard Memorial Scholarship

2011, John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Foundation Scholarship

2011, NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Graduate Assistantship

2009, John Mather Nobel Scholarship

2007, NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium Undergrad Research Grant

2006, UNF Hercules Endowed Scholarship in Physics


Special Experience


  • Blue Marble Space Institute for Science (BMSIS) Young Scholar Program summer internship co-mentor, June – Aug. 2022
  • Blue Marble Space Institute for Science (BMSIS) Visiting Scholar (VS) Program mentor, Sep. 2022 – May 2023
  • Co-supervisor, PhD student at JHU 
  • Collaborator and mentor, a PhD student, UMD, College Park



2023. "Jack Dwayne Farmer: April 18, 1947–February 22, 2023." Astrobiology 23 (9): 921-925 [10.1089/ast.2023.0044] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Diverse organic-mineral associations in Jezero crater, Mars." Nature 619 (7971): 724-732 [10.1038/s41586-023-06143-z] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Raman-IR spectroscopic, and XRD analysis of selected samples from Fogo Island, Cabo Verde: Implications for ancient Martian volcanology." Advances in Space Research 71 (11): 4860-4876 [10.1016/j.asr.2023.01.013] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "SHERLOC Raman Mineral Class Detections of the Mars 2020 Crater Floor Campaign." Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets 128 (3): [10.1029/2022je007455] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Life Detection Knowledge Base: Taxonomy of Potential Biosignatures." Astrobiology [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Aqueous alteration processes in Jezero crater, Mars−implications for organic geochemistry." Science [10.1126/science.abo5204] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "In Situ Identification of Paleoarchean Biosignatures Using Colocated Perseverance Rover Analyses: Perspectives for In Situ Mars Science and Sample Return." Astrobiology 22 (9): 1143-1163 [10.1089/ast.2022.0018] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "The power of paired proximity science observations: Co-located data from SHERLOC and PIXL on Mars." Icarus 115179 [] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Identifying Shocked Feldspar on Mars Using Perseverance Spectroscopic Instruments: Implications for Geochronology Studies on Returned Samples." Earth, Moon, and Planets 126 (2): 4 [10.1007/s11038-022-09546-6] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Raman Characterization of the CanMars Rover Field Campaign Samples Using the Raman Laser Spectrometer ExoMars Simulator: Implications for Mars and Planetary Exploration." Astrobiology [10.1089/ast.2021.0055] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Detecting Ce3+ as a biosignature mimicker using UV time-resolved laser-induced fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy: Implications for planetary missions." Icarus 354 114093 [10.1016/j.icarus.2020.114093] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Structural and vibrational analyses of CePO4 synthetic monazite samples under an optimized precipitation process ." Journal of Molecular Structure 1223 129150 [10.1016/j.molstruc.2020.129150] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Biosignature Preservation Potential in Playa Evaporites: Impacts of Diagenesis and Implications for Mars Exploration." Astrobiology 18 (11): 1460-1478 [10.1089/ast.2018.1849] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Detecting Kerogen as a Biosignature Using Colocated UV Time-Gated Raman and Fluorescence Spectroscopy." Astrobiology 18 (4): 431-453 [10.1089/ast.2017.1716] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "FIRE - Flyby of Io with Repeat Encounters: A conceptual design for a New Frontiers mission to Io." Advances in Space Research 60 (5): 1080-1100 [10.1016/j.asr.2017.05.019] [Journal Article/Letter]

2013. "Chromospheric mass motions and intrinsic sunspot rotations for NOAA Active Regions 10484, 10486, and 10488 using ISOON data. ." The Astrophysical Journal 773 (1): 60 [Journal Article/Letter]


2021. "Mars Astrobiological Cave and Internal habitability Explorer (MACIE): A New Frontiers Mission Concept." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.cf124da3] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Salty Environments: The importance of evaporites and brine environments as habitats and preservers of biosignatures." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.d0fffbba] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Deep Trek: Mission Concepts for Exploring Subsurface Habitability & Life on Mars — A Window into Subsurface Life in the Solar System." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.5f50cebc] [Journal Article/Letter]

2009. ""The Odysseus Project: NASA's Vision for Reaching the Stars"." NASA GSFC Report [Report]

Talks, Presentations and Posters


Informing Perseverance Mars Rover Raman and Fluorescence Studies of Fossil Biosignatures: Predictions and Recent Mission Data.


Invited talk, Agenastro 3rd International Astrobiology Conference.

Biosignature Detection with Raman and Fluorescence Spectroscopy: Informing Perseverance Rover


Invited talk (virtual), GA Tech Planetary & Astrobiology Seminar series.  

Biosignature Detection with Raman and Fluorescence Spectroscopy: Informing Perseverance Rover


Invited Colloquium for GA Tech's Planetary & Astrobiology Seminar, Atlanta, GA.

The Power of Astrobiology in Education

August 30, 2019

Given at the NASA Space Science Education Consortium 2019 Annual Meeting, NASA GSFC, Greenbelt, MD.

Mars biosignature studies: From the field to the lab to the rover.


Presentation at several seminars, June through August 2018:

  • Inaugural JHU Applied Physics Lab astrobiology seminar
  • GSFC Solar system exploration seminar
  • Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) weekly seminar


The Life Detection Forum: Building a framework for life detection


Presented at the April 2023 Code 600 GSFC Director's Seminar Series

The Life Detection Knowledge Base Project

November 27, 2022

Presented at the GSFC Early Career Scientist Forum, NASA GSFC, Greenbelt, MD. 

The Life Detection Knowledge Base Project: Overview and How You Can Get Involved

November 16, 2022

Presented as a talk at the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) Virtual Meeting #15. 

Ce3+ as a biosignature mimicker using UV fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy: Implications for Perseverance Rover


Presented virtually at the 2020 GSFC Early Career Science Forum, Greenbelt, MD. 

In Situ Biosignature Searches with Raman and Fluorescence Spectroscopy: Challenges and Recommendations for Perseverance Rover


Presented as a virtual seminar for Network for Life Detection (NFoLD)

Biosignatures and biosignature mimickers in spectroscopy


Presented virtually at BlueSciCon 2020.

Professional Service

Reviewing Activities for Journals (2017 - present)

IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing

Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences

Astrobiology Journal 

Journal of Raman Spectroscopy

Applied Spectroscopy

International Journal of Astrobiology


Reviewing Activities for Review Panels (2010 - present)


NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award

External Reviewer, NASA Exobiology Program

Panel Reviewer, NASA FINNEST Program

Panel Reviewer, NASA Planetary Science Early Career Award Program

Reviewer, NASA GSFC Red Team internal review for NASA Solar System Workings Proposal

Reviewer, NASA Academy Alumni Association Grant

Reviewing Activities for External Agencies (2014 - present)


Application Review Committee, Blue Marble Space Institute of Science (BMSIS)

Reviewer, ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association Grant

Other Community Service

Co-chair, NASA Center for Life Detection Abiotic Signals in Life Detection Workshop, 2024

Facilitator, NASA Center for Life Detection Evaluation Criteria Workshop, 2020

Integrator, Astrobiology Theme Group, 8th International Mars Conference, 2014 

Coordinator, Astrobiology Seminar Series, ASU, 2013