Statement from Maria Schönbächler (ETH Zurich, Switzerland), nominated to become Vice-President of the Meteoritical Society in January 2025.
My very first presentation at a scientific meeting was as a graduate student at the Meteoritical Society meeting in Rome (2001). Many more MetSoc meeting attendances followed. Since this first contact, I feel strongly connected to the Meteoritical Society, its members and its goals. I truly appreciate the services it provides to the community and I am deeply honored by the nomination to serve as the next Vice-President of the Meteoritical Society.
My path did not lead me directly to meteoritics and cosmochemistry. I recently cleaned up the attic of my parents' house and discovered an old essay that I had written as a girl at school. We could choose the topic freely, no constraints given, and I was excited that I could write about the planets, nine of them at that time, with the source being mostly an old atlas. Growing up in a non-academic environment, my education first led me to the Swiss postal service and accounting. I attended evening school to be admitted to the university. I decided that in the next choice of my professional career, interest, and not job security, should be my first criteria. Due to my interest in science and planets, I turned to our own planet Earth and studied Earth Sciences at ETH Zurich, passionate about the lectures in "Planetology" given by Rainer Wieler. With the arrival of a new professor, Alex Halliday, who offered me a graduate project on meteorites, I was hooked. The formation of matter, stars and planets is such an exciting topic, with meteorites right in the middle of it.
My doctoral studies were on Zr isotopes and their implications for solar system formation. Postdoctoral positions followed at Carnegie Institution, Washington (DC) focusing on Ag isotopes and the formation of the Earth, and Imperial College London (UK) until I got offered a Lecturer and Reader position at The University of Manchester (UK), with my final appointment at ETH Zurich in 2012. Scientifically, my core research and passion remained with meteoritics and planet formation. The journey to different countries has raised my awareness of cultural differences. Especially my two months spent at the Natural History Museum in Paris during my graduate studies as well as my time at Imperial College London (UK), located next to the Natural History Museum London with its great meteorite collections, increased my appreciation for curation and its central role for meteoritics. Last austral summer season (2022/2023), I had the privilege to join a Belgian-lead expedition to Antarctica, with the goal to identify new dense meteorite collection areas in the vicinity of the Princess Elisabeth research station. I am also part of the initial sample analysis team of Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx, both of which have and will push the frontiers in meteoritics and cosmochemistry. Moreover, I have been given the privilege to organise the Gordon Conference 2025, "Origins of solar systems", which brings together the meteoritics and astrophysics communities to foster interdisciplinarity and advance scientific frontiers. During my career, I had the opportunity to work for various organisations which let me gain valuable experience. Beside various commitments within ETH Zurich, I was council member of the European Association of Geochemistry (2013-2015), served as an executive board member of the Swiss Academy of Science (2016-2022) and I am currently vice president of the foundation council of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) (term ends in December 2023).
At the same time, I have been in the privileged position to both serve and benefit from the Meteoritical Society. I am a fellow of the Meteoritical Society and was honoured with the first Jessberger Award in 2021. I have served the Meteoritical Society in various positions: as a council member (2013-2016), in the Nomination Committee (2017-2021, Chair 2020) and in the Publication Committee (since 2023). I have also been involved in several scientific program committees for Meteoritical Society meetings (London, Sapporo, Santa Fe).
To be of further service to the Meteoritical Society and its members would be a great honour. I am grateful for being nominated and I am motivated to spend the necessary time in support of our society.
Statement of Priorities for the Meteoritical Society:
I perceive the Meteoritical Society as a modern, well working, international society with highly committed members. Some of the key activities of the Meteoritical Society are (i) the Meteoritical Society meetings and awards, (ii) the Meteoritical Bulletin and related tasks connected to meteorite classification and ethical questions (iii) the provision of journals for our research fields with "Meteoritics and Planetary Science" and "Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta" and (iv) being a home not only for meteorite and small bodies researchers but also for those working on impacts. Each of these areas come with own opportunities and challenges. Like every organisation, the Meteoritical Society operates in the framework of an ever-evolving larger environment in which and to which it needs to act and react.
I have fond memories of the Meteoritical Society meetings I have attended as well as financial support that I have received that enabled me to go to these meetings, when other funding was scarce. I always felt that these meetings have an intimate, friendly atmosphere, which is something to cherish and foster. Related to meetings and awards is the important topic of diversity and inclusiveness, in a broad sense including gender, geographical regions, young researchers and different disciplines. The society has made significant advances in this field over the past years and what is required now, is to keep this effort going. For a long-lasting impact, persistence is needed and we need to keep encouraging the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in meteoritics and planetary science.
Over the past 20 years, meteoritics has gained in importance to other fields. The exoplanet field has exploded over the years. The endeavour to understand the formation of our solar system and planets in general is interdisciplinary by its very nature. Meteoritics can provide key evidence to understand planet formation and is therefore a central piece in this quest. This also means that we are confronted with interdisciplinarity. Similarly, our science is also of growing interest for space missions. This includes various kinds of missions, from sample return to orbiter and landing missions targeting planets, moons, comets and asteroids. In addition, there is also the idea of commercial exploitation of extraterrestrial materials on the horizon. Moreover, the number of dealers and collectors has grown. The society is challenged with the controversial topic of desert meteorites and internet platforms selling meteorites. The Meteoritical Society has been confronted with the opportunities and risks offered by the extensive changes going on in publishing. This includes open access, open data and the relations to publishing houses. These topics will accompany us for a while.
I cannot provide the solutions to the challenges arising from these topics, but I strongly believe it is important that we keep the open, diverse, multi-disciplinary, tolerant and friendly nature of our society, find solutions through discussions and debates such that our society remains able to support our community and its next generations working on meteoritics and in planetary sciences as well as possible.