What’s most surprising about Lujendra Ojha? That he made valuable contributions to the discovery of water on Mars? That he’s South Asian? That he’s a self-professed metalhead? All three?
Whatever it is, the Nepalese-American researcher and PhD candidate at Georgia Tech has become a mini-celebrity ever since media uncovered his central role in the landmark discovery of water on Mars recently.
Ojha’s work goes as far back as 2011, when the now-25-year-old was working on the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter with Alfred McEwan, another researcher who run’s the Orbiter’s main high-def camera. Ojha was responsible for developing a new way to analyze photographs of Mars’s surface, which led to him believing in the possibility of water on the Red Planet. As he describes to CNET, the work began while he was an undergraduate at the University of Arizona (in Tuscon, where he ended up with his family after immigrant from Nepal as a teen):
"The discovery of RSL [recurring slope lineae, the name for the lines of flowing salt water observed on Mars] was kind of like my undergraduate thesis when I was at the University of Arizona," he recalls.
In 2011, McEwen and Ojha introduced RSL and the possibility of a wet Mars to the world. Ojha went to Georgia Tech to continue that work and on Monday, he and McEwen again joined with NASA to share the news that those mysterious Martian lines are as wet (and also salty) as suspected. The findings were also published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Interest in Ojha’s hobbies grew as news outlets found Ojha’s own website, which prominently features a photo of him with long hair, holding an electric guitar. Ojha proclaimed to CNET that he is a big fan of metal – especially death metal, a subgenere often stereotyped as being fascinated with the occult and other "dark" topics popularly-associated with metal music – and was interested in pursuing a music career before science:
"Yeah, that was an old life," Ojha confesses with a laugh. "I was kind of in poverty with music. I wasn’t making enough money so I said screw music, let’s go to science, maybe there’s more money in it. But there isn’t money in science either."
Ojha is a National Science Fellow currently residing and working in France.