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Mars-struck: A romantic bond that’s out of this world

This couple’s shared work on space instruments is a new chapter in their relationship
February 1, 2021
From a Silicon Valley startup to grad school to Los Alamos National Laboratory, Adriana Reyes-Newell and Ray Newell have found their way together as physicists.

From a Silicon Valley startup to grad school to Los Alamos National Laboratory, Adriana Reyes-Newell and Ray Newell have found their way together as physicists.

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“Romantic” may be the last adjective most people would apply to Los Alamos National Laboratory, but many a romance has flourished here, including that of Raymond Newell and Adriana Reyes-Newell.

Both physicists, Ray and Adriana met in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. When the startup they were working for succumbed to the tech bubble bust, the alluring world of photonics — the study of light — took them to Madison, Wisconsin, for graduate school. While deep in their studies, their love grew and they married. 

Upon graduation, these self-professed naturalists were seeking a place that would allow for work-life balance, which ultimately brought them in 2003 to Los Alamos, where careers in science and New Mexico’s stunning natural beauty can both be found in abundance. 

Adriana finished her post-master’s research at the Lab in 2004, then took a leave of absence when she became a mother. For 13 years, she immersed herself in her children and photography, while Ray immersed himself in quantum-based cryptography research. 

“I can't say we were a Lab couple until just recently,” says Adriana, who returned to the Lab in 2017. 

♥♥♥ Valentine’s Day fun fact: Did you know that of the more than 10,000 staff members at the Lab, about 2,000 of them are married … to each other? ♥♥♥ 

How Mars work unites them

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Ray Newell of the SuperCam team speaks to a group of Lab employees at a farewell open house in April 2019. He is explaining the inner workings of both the “body unit” and “mast unit” of the SuperCam instrument for the Mars 2020 rover mission.

In recent years, Ray and Adriana have worked together on three exciting projects related to Mars exploration. Surprisingly, even though they are both totally Mars-struck, “Ray and I hardly see each other during the day,” admits Adriana.

So, this couple balances intense research with fun-filled family time. On the weekends, they enjoy camping, mountain biking, birdwatching and, of course, stargazing with their daughters.

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Lucia, 12, and Dahlia, 14, with Ray and Adriana in the great outdoors.

While pairing up with successful teams at LANL, the Newells have seen good things come from their contributions. ChemCam, an instrument aboard the Curiosity rover, has been busy on Mars since 2011.

SuperCam, a remote-sensing instrument aboard the Perseverance rover, is about to land on Mars on Feb. 18. Decked out with super vision and super senses for identifying the chemical makeup of Martian rocks and "soil" (regolith), it’s no wonder SuperCam won a Distinguished Performance Award from LANL.

Their latest project, OrganiCam, is outfitted with a pulsed laser and a camera. Still a proof of concept in the lab, OrganiCam is designed to pick up biological samples that emit fluorescence and can go places other instruments can't (such as lava tube caves). OrganiCam was honored by a group of R&D Magazine's elite judges as one of the top 100 proven technological advances of the year in 2020!

Like the rest of us, the Newells are eagerly awaiting those first images and sounds from Mars when the Perseverance rover finally reaches its destination after a journey of seven months and almost 300 million miles.

Want to hear more from Ray and Adriana? Join them virtually on Feb. 18 for an after-party event to celebrate the landing of Perseverance.

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Learn more about SuperCam and OrganiCam

Get fun facts about SuperCam’s powers here.

Watch this YouTube video (3:15 minutes) to see all the things OrganiCam could do on Mars and Earth to advance science.