Atwood, 44, is a fourth-generation Utahn born and raised in the Avenues section of Salt Lake City, where she resides with her second husband, fellow geologist Don Mabey.

Born into a well-to-do family, Atwood attended private schools - Rowland Hall, Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University, where she earned a master's degree in geology. Atwood worked for the National Academy of Science and as an engineer with a consulting firm.In 1974, Atwood, upset over the Watergate scandal, decided to get into politics. She chose the Republican Party, saying its fiscal conservatism best fit her personal views.

She was elected as a state legislator and won re-election in 1976 and 1978. In 1980, Atwood decided to challenge Sen. Frances Farley, D-Salt Lake. But Atwood was defeated in a close GOP primary.

In 1981, Atwood was appointed, with the approval of Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson, as director of the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey. She was the first female state geologist in the nation. She resigned the post last year, to run for Congress, and started her own geological consulting firm with her husband. Atwood has no children.