Credit: Originally published by Show Me | 19 March 2015.

While most of us Garden Route Earthlings will be going about our business on a fine autumn day, Adriana Marais – firstborn of Plettenberg Bay CBD dwellers Marie-Anna and Theo Marais – might well be wandering down the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, with a particular spring in her step.

The evening of 18 March, Adriana Marais will be the only South African sharing the stage with some of the sharpest ladies on the planet, as one of 15 recipients worldwide of a L’Oreal-Unesco International Rising Talent Grant for Women in Science. Last year Adriana, 31, was one of 200 Young South African achievers recognised by the Mail & Guardian. She says with a bright smile: “My research is what makes me get up in the morning.”

But another reason why her name may ring a bell to regular CXPRESS readers is our announcement in the February 19 edition that Adriana was among only four South Africans and 100 people worldwide selected for Round 3 of the Mars One project, which sets out to send people to that planet – never to return – 10 years from now.

When finally meeting Adriana in the flesh two weeks ago, it was to facilitate an 80-odd minute landline interview with Orrin Singh of Radio Lotus, conducted from the quiet of our Saturday morning CXPRESS office.

A particularly well-prepared Singh peppered Adriana and a fellow interviewee Jonathan Weltman, CEO of the Foundation for Space Development, with complicated technical questions as well as those of a more philosophical nature. When did you first consider leaving Earth? What are the perks and dangers of living on Mars?

While all this was going on, a whispered chat to Theo and Marie-Anna, who relocated late last year from KZN to their traditional holiday spot and the long-time home of Theo’s parents, Henri and Louise.

“Adriana has always been interested in things – studies, sports, travel, being social with her friends, living healthily but enjoying a good glass of wine. She’s just never been particularly keen on getting married and having babies and settling down,” explained her mom. “At pre-primary school al-ready, her teacher said that she ‘absorbs knowledge easily’ and that has been the case ever since.”

Small wonder then that be attractive brain box, a cascade of blond dreads befitting her light and kind demeanour, completed her MSc in quantum cryptograthy summa cum laude, and low awaits results of her PhD in quantum biology, both from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She is a member of the Quantum Research Group established by Prof Francesco Petruccione at UKZN, and plans to continue doing research in quantum biology, specifically studying quantum effects in photosynthesis as well as the origins of prebiotic molecules and life itself.

Combine this with the fact that she has been dreaming since childhood of living on another planet, and it comes as no surprise that Adriana is one of the remaining 100 Mars One candidates in the running to move to the red planet in 2024. “I feel like this is something I am meant to do rather than want to do. My whole life has been leading up to taking part in this awe-inspiring mission to call another planet home.”

Adriana hopes to continue her research on Mars, and possibly even contribute to the discovery of evidence that life once existed there. Until such time, her parents and siblings and boyfriend will make the most of her engaging presence right here on earth.