2011 Annual Science Report

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Reporting  |  SEP 2010 – AUG 2011

EPO Activity: 2010 EPO - Summer Undergraduate Internship in Astrobiology

Project Progress

2010 featured the seventh SUIA offering (Summer Undergraduate Internships in Astrobiology), a ten-week residential research program at the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA). (http://astrobiology.gsfc.nasa.gov/education.html) Competition was very keen, with an oversubscription ratio of 3.0. Students applied from over 28 colleges and universities in the United States, and 6 Interns from 6 institutions were selected. Each Intern carried out a defined research project working directly with a GCA scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center or the University of Maryland. As a group, the Interns met with a different GCA scientist each week, learning about his/her respective area of research, visiting diverse laboratories and gaining a broader view of astrobiology as a whole. At summer’s end, each Intern reported his/her research in a power point presentation projected nation-wide to member Teams in NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, as part of the NAI Forum for Astrobiology Research (FAR) Series. (http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/newsletter/display/2010-08-04#573)

Brief Summaries of Research are given below:

Sean Po (Harvard) – “Tracing OH Gas Emission in Protoplanetary Disk Around Bright, Intermediate-Mass Stars (Herbig Ae/Be Stars”
Mr. Po’s research task was to examine infrared observations of gas in protoplanetary disks around young stars, in order to quantify the presence of water and organic molecules in the region of the disk where planets form. He first acquired a basic understanding of how to detect molecules using infrared spectroscopy, focusing specifically on the structure of spectra of simple molecules such as H2O, OH, and HCN and then learned to reduce data for protoplanetary disks acquired with the Keck telescope, primarily working with existing computer programs that rapidly convert the original data images to spectra. GCA Collaborator Dr. Avi Mandell (NASA-GSFC) mentored Mr. Po.

Jan-Luca Bell (Eckerd College) – “Radiation Stability on Presolar Grains by Fischer-Tropsch Type Reactions”
Mr. Bell worked in the Cosmic Ice Laboratory working on two different projects. The first project was the study of low-temperature pathways to amino-acid formation. This project worked on low-temperature pathways to amino-acid formation. The project involved radiation chemistry and IR spectroscopy, and is collaboration with Dr. Jason Dworkin. Mr. Bell’s other project was measurements of optical properties, such as refractive indices, of icy materials. The results will be applied to the organic
chemistry of Titan. GCA Collaborator Dr. Reggie Hudson (NASA-GSFC) mentored Mr. Bell.

Michael Kopstein (College of William & Mary) – “Formation of Organics on Presolar Grains by Fischer-Tropsch Type Reactions”
Mr. Kopstein worked on a two-fold endeavor shared between both laboratories. We were interested in the isotopic fractionation of carbon and nitrogen from the starting gases into the organic material generated via Fischer-Tropsch Type (FTT) reactions on grain surfaces as well as the distribution of amino acids synthesized via FTT. Both projects could be achieved through two different analyses of the same experiment. Under the guidance of Natasha Johnson, Mr. Kopstein generated FTT organic residues at a given temperature and periodically extracted them from the apparatus based on the infrared spectra. There was insufficient time to complete a FTT run; however weekly monitoring of the solid was possible. This material was split and one fraction analyzed for bulk ∂15N and ∂13C via elemental analysis-isotopic ratio mass spectrometry (EA-IRMS) under the guidance of Jamie Elsila and the other fraction extracted for amino acids via fluorescence liquid chromatography-time of flight mass spectrometry (LC-FD/ToF-MS) under the guidance of Jason Dworkin and Jamie Elsila. Additional samples of old FTT reactions were available to perfect the workup required for the LC-FD/ToF-MS. These results were compared to the material found in meteorites.“ GCA Co-Investigators Drs. Jason Dworkin, Natasha Johnson, and Jamie Elsila (NASA-GSFC) mentored Mr. Kopstein.

Emily Sudholt (University of Missouri) – “Water in Comet Lulin: Detection of H2O and OH and a Search for HDO”
Ms. Sudholt conducted a preliminary search for HDO and detected H2O and OH* in the spectra of comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) obtained by NIRSPEC at the Keck II telescope atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. She obtained spatial profiles and g-factors (prompt emission efficiency measured in OH photons / sec / H2O molecule) for OH* and rotational temperature and production rate for H2O. Emily also derived a preliminary upper limit for HDO/H2O. GCA Dr. Boncho Bonev (GSFC/Catholic University) mentored Ms. Sudholt.

Iva Gerasimenko (Randolph College) – “Test for Multiple Impactors in Apollo 17 Melt Rocks”
Ms. Gerasimenko measured the abundances of the highly siderophile elements in multiple chunks of the same rock in order to identify its “fingerprint”. This will contribute to our expanding database for lunar impactors. She learned both chemical separation and mass spectrometry techniques. GCA Co-Investigator Dr. Richard Walker (University of Maryland) mentored Ms. Gerasimenko.

Rebecca Mickol (University of Colorado) – “A Sensitive Search for Biomarker gases on Mars: vertical Distribution of Polar Ozone using CSHELL at IRTF: A deep infrared (1 – 5 μm) spectral survey of planet Mars”
We observed an important release of the biomarker gas methane on Mars in 2003. In 2009, we have started a comprehensive observational campaign that will permit us to obtain the deepest and most comprehensive search for biomarkers on Mars. The wealth of data is enormous; in the first half of our 2009/2010 observational campaign we have collected more data than in the last 10 years. Ms. Mickol analyzed the echelle infrared spectra of Mars and created a spectral catalog. The observed spectra will be compared to the expected signatures of more than 20 biomarker gases, and abundances or upper limits will be derived. GCA Collaborator Dr. Geronimo Villanueva (GSFC/Catholic University) mentored Ms. Mickol.

2010 <span class="caps">GCA</span> Astrobiology Summer Interns

The 2010 SUIA Students – Pictured left to right: Jan-Luca Bell (Eckerd College), Emily Sudholt (University of Missouri), Rebecca Mickol (University of Colorado), Michael Kopstein (College of William and Mary), Sean Po (Harvard University), Iva Gerasimenko (Randolph College)