2010 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

EPO Activity: Undergraduate Research

Project Progress

A total of 15 undergraduates worked on Astrobiology-related research under the mentorship of NAI faculty at RPI during the reporting period. Their contributions are summarized below in order of the projects they were associated with (see also separate sections).

Project 1: Interstellar Origins of Preplanetary Matter (3 students).
Jennifer Nielsen and Zachary Bross analyzed spectroscopic data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF): the merged Spitzer and IRTF data provided coverage of absorption features in different constituents of interstellar and circumstellar ices, and results enabled us to compare the chemical and thermal evolution of ices in the environments of young stellar objects of different luminosity and mass. Joseph Spizuco worked on a new project to investigate the stellar population in the dense molecular cloud RCrA, with the purpose of developing a catalog of suitable targets for future spectroscopic observation.

Project 2: Processing of Precometary Ices in the Early Solar System (5 students).
Max Katz carried out simulations of multifluid MHD shock waves (Max has subsequently joined Roberge’s group as a graduate student). Raymond Menzel worked on electrodynamic heating of asteroids and planetesimals in protoplanetary disks (Raymond has also subsequently joined Roberge’s group as a graduate student). Allycia Gariepy investigated numerical methods for multifluid magnetohydrodynamics. Aaron Smith worked on an educational project to simulate exoplanet transits. Claire Marvinney investigated deuterium fractionation via gas-phase reactions in shock waves.

Project 6: The Environment of the Early Earth (2 students).
Egidio Tentori worked on the uptake of nitrogen in rock-forming minerals, and also on the aluminum-in-quartz project – the goal of the latter is to develop a means to determine the crystallization conditions of quartz in early-Earth environments. Sebastian Mergelsberg worked on the incorporation and diffusion of “biosignature” elements (S, C) in apatite, a ubiquitous phosphate mineral.

Project 7: Prebiotic Chemical Catalysis on Early Earth and Mars (5 students).
Brittany Ferraro investigated the relative proportions of the montmorillonite clay catalysts to determine the concentration that gives the optimal yield of RNA oligomers. She is also investigating which montmorillonites are the best catalysts. Anna Sheridan investigated the “salting in” and “salting out” of nucleotides in aqueous solutions: her objective is determination the effect of monovalent, divalent and trivalent metal ions on the yields of RNA oligomers. Alex Meola, John Grossman and Matthew Moellman worked on abiotic polymerization of activated RNA and activated nucleotides with alternative sugars on montmorillonate clay and MALDI-Mass spectrometric detection of the products.