Adriana Marais

Mars One Candidate

Adriana Marais is not just another PhD student in the field of quantum biology – she is one of the remaining 705 candidates earmarked to establish a human colony on Mars in 2024.

She explains: “Having decided as a child to become an astronaut, I planned to study astrophysics or aeronautical engineering, but at the time became drawn to quantum mechanics, and eventually was led into research aimed at answering the question ‘what is life?’ and therefore the possibility of being part of the Mars project will most decidedly be the ultimate challenge for me.” In the meantime her time is spent fruitfully on various aspects in her field and her research is already being published nationally and internationally.

She is involved in outreach teaching projects, has lectured at the Centre for Scientific Access at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is already established as a speaker at physics conferences – in fact, she was awarded the Best PhD Talk at this year’s South African Institute of Physics conference.

Her research touches on brand new fields such as quantum cryptography and quantum mechanics in the “green” arena.

Marais says awards and accolades are good to have, in the sense that if publicity and funding leads to enable scientists to find more answers, of giving them the opportunity to delve deeper into questions such as “what distinguishes a life form from the matter from which it is made?” and ultimately, as a scientist, this is what she strives for: finding answers.

What set her on the road as a scientist? She says that during her undergraduate years at the University of Cape Town she discussed with a lecturer the impossibility of observing something without interacting with it, and therefore disturbing it in some way.

“The implication that the observer is then inextricably part of the system under observation, has intrigued me ever since,” she says.

Marais believes in every person is a wealth of talent and potential and that it is your life’s task to realise this potential, doing the things you are good at and that make you happy. To aspiring researchers she gives the advice to read, read, read and never stop asking questions. — Ilse Ferreira