2014 Annual Science Report

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Reporting  |  SEP 2013 – DEC 2014

Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology (URAA)

Project Summary

In 2014, the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA) hosted the tenth session of our summer program for talented science students (Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology), a ten-week residential research program tenured at Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland, College Park (http://astrobiology.gsfc.nasa.gov/education.html). Competition was very keen, with an oversubscription ratio of 3.0. Students applied from over 15 Colleges and Universities in the United States, and 2 Interns from 2 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 Associates 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 Associate 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.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
1 Publication
1 Field Site
Field Sites

Project Progress

Associate Maureen Palmer (St. Olaf College) – “Organic Gases in Titan’s Atmosphere”
Ms. Palmer conducted a study of Titan’s atmospheric composition using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) science archive. This involved retrieval of a large volume of ALMA calibration data on Titan, followed by a methodical search for spectral lines. The data were cleaned and imaged to produce 3D data cubes, from which maps of the detected lines were produced. Multiple spectral lines of known species were obtained (including CO, HCN, HC3N and CH3CN), and over 25 lines of ethyl cyanide (C2H5CN) were found, constituting the first spectroscopic detection of this molecule on Titan.
GCA Collaborator Dr. Martin Cordiner mentored Ms. Palmer. Dr. Conon Nixon assisted.

Associate Christina Nevin (Siena College) – “The Analysis of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydro-carbons (PAHs) in Carbonaceous Meteorites”
Ms. Nevin conducted research into optimizing analytical methods for the compound-specific isotopic analysis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in meteorites. She began with literature searches to compile previously published methods and results. She then developed and test-ed methods for extraction, purification, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry/isotope ratio mass spectrometry of PAHs using standards, spiked substrates, and samples of the Allende carbonaceous chondrite. Her research resulted in an optimized protocol for the analysis of these compounds, which will be applied to future meteorite studies.

GCA Co-Investigator Dr. Jamie Elsila Cook and NPP Fellow Dr. Jose Aponte co-mentored Ms. Nevin.

  • PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:
  • PROJECT MEMBERS:
    Michael Mumma
    Project Investigator

    Jamie Cook
    Collaborator

    Martin Cordiner
    Collaborator

    Corinne Eby
    Collaborator

    Conor Nixon
    Collaborator

  • RELATED OBJECTIVES:
    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth