Researcher Spotlight

Researcher Spotlight: Xeynab Mouti

Get to know Center researchers with this periodic feature!

Xeynab Mouti is an undergraduate student at ASU doing research in the Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS) and a 2020/2021 NASA Space Grant Intern alumni. Mouti is studying for a major in microbiology and minors in geological sciences, Arabic studies, and Italian. Her research in CMS focuses on the study of a primitive group of meteorites, the Mighei-like carbonaceous (CM) chondrites, which remain relatively unaltered since they formed in the early Solar System ~4.5 billion years ago.

Xeynab Mouti
NASA Space Grant Intern Xeynab Mouti has worked in the Center for Meteorite Studies since 2019.

Mouti, an Arizonan, visited the ASU meteorite gallery as a high school student but never intended to pursue research in meteoritics.

I would attend the ASU Open Door events and I loved looking at the meteorite gallery. However, I never imagined it would be possible for me to actually study meteorites. I was drawn to do research through the Barrett College Fellows program, which serendipitously connected me with Dr. Jemma Davidson and Dr. Devin Schrader in CMS. I learnt so much about meteoritics, and the principles of research and scientific study, that I continued my research as a NASA Space Grant Intern. The skills and experience gained have set me on a path to study what I truly love and am passionate about.

Murchison meteorite
Hand sample of the meteorite Murchison, a Mighei-like carbonaceous chondrite similar to the ones studied by Xeynab Mouti.

As a member of the Center for Meteorite Studies, Mouti has delved into the earliest days of the Solar System’s history.

I find it fascinating how we can use meteorites to learn so much about the early Solar System. The meteorites I study formed billions of years ago before ending up on Earth’s surface, yet they can still tell us about the processes that took place so long ago.

During her Barrett College Fellows internship, Mouti was able to steer the direction of her own research toward fine-grained chondrule rims, crystalline layers of tiny minerals that coat the exteriors of chondrules (microscopic spheres of silicate and opaque minerals and the major components of rocks that formed in the early Solar System). Their origin has been hotly debated for years and Mouti was excited to add to the conversation.

chondrule
Electron image of a chondrule with a fine-grained rim in Antarctic meteorite EET 96029. Brighter regions represent higher atomic mass.

What I find most interesting about my research is the interdisciplinary nature of the study of CMs and fine-grained rims and how researchers from multiple scientific backgrounds can each contribute to the field. My research on CM chondrites also has implications for the study of samples collected during asteroid sample return missions such as OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2, which is really exciting. Given that those asteroids are thought to be similar in composition to CM chondrites, the study of these meteorites will further our understanding of carbonaceous asteroids.

After graduating from ASU, Mouti plans to study astrobiology in grad school and then pursue a career in planetary science.

Astrobiology blends my current research at the Center for Meteorite Studies with my education in microbiology. Ultimately, I would love to work at a NASA center or another scientific institute or university to further contribute and advance the field. I also want to help others to reach their goals and am passionate about outreach; I hope to pay it forward and to help more girls and underrepresented groups pursue STEM careers.

This summer, Mouti will present her research at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society and continues to undertake education and public outreach activities virtually, ensuring that future generations of researchers are exposed to her enthusiasm about science and are aware that they too can study meteorites. This fall, Mouti will continue her research in CMS and is currently writing a paper to report her findings to the scientific community.

Dr. Jemma Davidson
Assistant Research Scientist
Center for Meteorite Studies
School of Earth and Space Exploration
Arizona State University

Researcher Spotlight: Devin Schrader

Get to know Center researchers with this periodic feature!

Dr. Devin Schrader is the Interim Director of the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS) and an Associate Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). His research focuses on the study of primitive meteorites thDevin Schraderat have remained relatively unaltered since they formed in the early Solar System ~4.5 billion years ago. He also works on samples returned from asteroids, including those returned from asteroid Itokawa by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), and is a collaborator on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.
 
Schrader, a native to Arizona, grew up in the boondocks where the night skies were clear and the constellations were rarely obscured.
Photo: D. Schrader.
 
That led to an interest in stars and a love of astronomy. I had a telescope as a kid and would spend hours on the garage roof with it, staring into space. But it wasn’t until grade school, when I was about 12 or 13 years old, that I realized you could hold space rocks in your hand. I was fascinated.
 
Schrader’s fascination with meteorites led him to become a regular visitor to the world-renowned Tucson Gem and Mineral show (held every February in Tucson, Arizona) where he had the chance to see an incredible array of meteorites. Meanwhile, the University of Arizona’s (UA) reputation for astronomy research enticed him to become a Wild Cat while he pursued a double major in Physics and Astronomy.
 
I loved astronomy and thought I wanted to be an astronomer. I was fascinated by meteorites but I didn’t know that studying them was an actual career until I did a NASA Space Grant internship classifying meteorites. That made me realize that I could apply my physics and astronomy background to the study of meteorites.
 
Following rewarding and fascinating internships with both Prof. Dante Lauretta (PI of the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission) at UA and Prof. Harold Connolly Jr. at the American Museum of Natural History, Schrader stayed at UA for graduate school and worked with both Dante and Harold.
 
During grad school, I had the opportunity to work with primitive meteorites, specifically CR chondrites, which represent the earliest stages of our solar system’s history. If you want to understand why our solar system looks like it does today, you have to understand what it formed from. These 4.5 billion year old rocks give us the best opportunity to do that.
 
After graduating with a Ph.D. in 2012, Schrader became a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and then the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Schrader worked with Dr. Tim McCoy, the Smithsonian’s Curator of Meteorites; together they provided sample science support for the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.
 
Working with Tim was a dream come true. He’s a leader in his field and I learned a lot from him. Tim encouraged me to diversify and work on a whole range of other meteorite types, including primitive achondrites. We also worked on the OSIRIS-REx mission together – that was a lot of fun. It’s been amazing to watch the mission progress and I can’t wait to see the samples return from asteroid Bennu in 2023.
 
Schrader became a Sun Devil in Summer 2015, when he joined the Center for Meteorite Studies as Assistant Director and Assistant Research Professor; he is now the Interim Director of CMS and an Associate Research Professor.
 
The Center for Meteorite Studies at ASU is an amazing place to work. In the vault, we have meteorites that represent every stage of Solar System history. It’s a researcher’s dream. And we’re ideally situated to interact with the local community through events in the School for Space and Earth Exploration.
Devin SchraderCurrently, Schrader is focused on using isotopic and compositional analyses to determine the chemistry of the protoplanetary disk and trace migration of material in the early Solar System. This recently led Schrader to analyze grains returned from asteroid Itokawa by the Hayabusa mission and he hopes to analyze more returned samples in the coming years.
 
For his contributions to planetary science and the OSIRIS-REx mission, Schrader has an asteroid named after him; you can find his name sake, Asteroid 117581 Devinschrader (2005 EG37), in the asteroid belt.
 
Learn more about Dr. Schrader’s research here: https://meteoriticist.com/
 
Watch a tour of the Meteorite Vault by Dr. Schrader and Dr. Davidson here: https://meteorites.asu.edu/collection
 
In the news:
Fragments of asteroids may have jumped the gap in the early solar system https://meteorites.asu.edu/news/gap
New paper on cosmochemistry advances from Antarctic meteorites! https://meteorites.asu.edu/news/antmet
Acapulcoite-lodranite meteorite group https://meteorites.asu.edu/news/aclo-paper
CR chondrite metamorphism https://meteorites.asu.edu/news/cr-met
Background temperature of the protoplanetary disk https://meteorites.asu.edu/news/new-paper
 
Recent publications:
Schrader D. L., Nagashima K., Davidson J., McCoy T. J., Ogliore R. C., and Fu R. R. (2020) Outward migration of chondrule fragments in the Early Solar System: O-isotopic evidence for rocky material crossing the Jupiter Gap? Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 282, 133–155.
 
Fu R. R., Kehayias P., Weiss B. P., Schrader D. L., Bai X.-N., and Simon J. B. (2020) Weak magnetic fields in the outer solar nebula recorded in CR chondrites. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets 125, e2019JE006260.
 
Wadhwa M., McCoy T. J., and Schrader D. L. (2020) Advances in cosmochemistry enabled by Antarctic meteorites. Annual Review in Planetary Science 48, 233–258.
 
Davidson J., Schrader D. L., Alexander C. M. O’D., Nittler L. R., and Bowden R. (2019) Re-examining thermal metamorphism of the Renazzo-like (CR) carbonaceous chondrites: Insights from pristine Miller Range 090657 and shock-heated Graves Nunataks 06100. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 267: 240–256.
 
McCoy T. J., Corrigan C. M., Dickinson T. L., Benedix G. K., Schrader D. L., and Davidson J. (2019) Grove Mountains (GRV) 020043: Insights into acapulcoite-lodranite genesis from the most primitive member. Geochemistry 79(4): 125536.
 
Written by
Dr. Jemma Davidson
Assistant Research Scientist
Center for Meteorite Studies
School of Earth and Space Exploration
Arizona State University

Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Jemma Davidson

Get to know Center researchers with this new periodic feature!

Dr. Jemma Davidson is an Assistant Research Scientist in the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS) and School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). Her research focuses on the petrology and isotope chemistry of a wide variety of planetary materials, including interplanetary dust particles, meteorites from Mars, the Moon, and the asteroid belt, and samples of lava flows collected on Earth.

Dr. Jemma DavidsonDavidson knew she was destined for a scientific career when she studied geology at high school. The enthusiasm and encouragement of a teacher (shout out to Mr. Finn!) convinced her that studying geology was a legitimate career for a kid from a council estate.

During her undergraduate studies at Durham University in the north of England, she realized that she didn’t just want to study rocks – she wanted to study rocks from space. Even though her Earth Science department didn’t have a planetary science component she convinced her Master’s adviser to help her set up a research project working on lunar samples returned from the Moon by the Apollo 15 and 17 missions.

That was the first time I’d ever held anything extraterrestrial. While I worked on those samples they went everywhere with me – I didn’t let them out of my sight. Then each night, after locking them away and leaving the lab, I’d look up at Moon and it would blow my mind that I could see where those samples had been collected by astronauts before I was even born. I was hooked.

After graduating with a first class M.Sci. degree from Durham University in 2006, she switched focus from the Moon to even more exotic material that predates our own Solar System.

During my last year of undergraduate study, while I was working on the Apollo samples, I wrote a research paper about presolar grains in meteorites. I had literally never heard of them before but they instantly won me over.

Presolar grains are tiny, microscopic pieces of dust that form when dying stars either explode (in the case of novae and supernovae) or start to expand and slough off material that condenses as it cools. They are literally pieces of dead stars that we can study in the lab.

It’s pretty amazing to think that some meteorites preserve what are essentially fossil pieces of stars that lived and died before our Solar System even existed.

Dr. Jemma DavidsonThe types of meteorites presolar grains are found in – chondrites – are sources of constant surprises. In fact, last year Davidson was involved in a study led by Dr. Larry Nittler of the Carnegie Institution of Science that identified a cometary building block preserved inside a meteorite from an asteroid, nick-named the cosmic turducken by mainstream media.

After obtaining her PhD for her presolar grain studies from The Open University in 2009, Davidson moved to the US to start a string of postdoctoral positions that would take her from the University of Arizona where she worked on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington D.C. before she ultimately found a home as a Sun Devil at ASU in 2018.

Throughout her career, Davidson has jumped at the opportunity to work on many different types of extraterrestrial – and even terrestrial – materials.

I joke that my scientific career has Jekyll and Hyde style personalities – one side of me studies the earliest-formed Solar System materials (the really primitive stuff that hasn’t been altered since it formed 4.5 billion years ago) while the other side is interested in planetary magmatism, which occurred after large planetary bodies formed and differentiated, and represents the later stages of planetary body evolution. But there’s a common thread that runs through all my research – what materials were present at the start of our Solar System? What was destroyed? What survived? And how did this material evolve to its current state?

Answering questions like those opens up a host of research opportunities; as a cosmochemist and petrologist, Davidson has a skill set ideally suited to working on a whole variety of sample types. Over the last couple of years, Davidson has been working with SESE Director (and former CMS Director) Dr. Meenakshi (Mini) Wadhwa on meteorites from Mars and terrestrial analogs.

Mini offered me the opportunity to fill what I saw as a gap in my knowledge; a deep understanding of samples formed in large planetary-scale systems. Until then I’d mostly studied material from comets and asteroids, not planets. Studying meteorites from Mars – including the famous NWA 7034 (aka Black Beauty) – allowed me to transfer the skills I’d honed for the analysis of chondrites and IDPs and really sink my teeth into planetary-scale processes.

Davidson NWA7034
Dr. Jemma Davidson holds a piece of NWA 7034, a martian polymict-breccia.
Davidson’s recent work has concentrated on tracing magmatic volatiles (specifically the isotopic nature and abundance of hydrogen) in minerals in martian meteorites. By performing coordinated hydrogen isotope and concentration analyses, this research aims to determine the source and timing of water in the terrestrial planets, trace how this water evolved, and further our understanding of magmatic processes on different planetary bodies. Davidson will soon extend these analyses to a suite of lava samples from Iceland.

As anyone who visits CMS will know, my office is currently teeming with Icelandic basalts and I’ll take any excuse to show them to people; they’re gorgeous but they also provide a very important way for us to understand processes occurring on Mars. We have field context for the Icelandic basalts – we know where they were collected in relation to one another and that allows us to trace the behavior of water within a suite of samples and between suites that experienced different geologic processes. We don’t know exactly where on Mars the martian meteorites came from but the Icelandic basalts provide great analogs for martian samples and will allow us to put data from those samples into context.

Davidson looks forward to the day when samples will be brought back from Mars. In the meantime, she continues to split her research focus between early Solar System materials and planetary-scale magmatic volatiles studies.

For her contributions to planetary science and the OSIRIS-REx mission, Davidson had an asteroid named after her; you can find her namesake, 117595 Jemmadavidson (2005 EG62), in the asteroid belt.

To learn more about Dr. Davidson’s research, click here!

 
In the news:
 
Recent publications

Davidson J., Schrader D. L., Alexander C. M. O’D., Nittler L. R., and Bowden R. (2019) Re-examining thermal metamorphism of the Renazzo-like (CR) carbonaceous chondrites: Insights from pristine Miller Range 090657 and shock-heated Graves Nunataks 06100. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 267: 240–256.

Davidson J., Alexander C. M. O’D., Stroud R. M., Busemann H., and Nittler L. R. (2019) Mineralogy and petrology of Dominion Range 08006: A very primitive CO3 carbonaceous chondrite. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 265: 259–278.

McCoy T. J., Corrigan C. M., Dickinson T. L., Benedix G. K., Schrader D. L., and Davidson J. (2019) Grove Mountains (GRV) 020043: Insights into acapulcoite-lodranite genesis from the most primitive member. Geochemistry 79(4): 125536.

Nittler L. R., Stroud R. M., Trigo-Rodríguez J. M., De Gregorio B. T., Alexander C. M. O’D., Davidson J., Moyano-Cambero C. E., and Tanbakouei S. (2019) A cometary building block in a primitive asteroidal meteorite. Nature Astronomy 3: 659–666.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Amy Jurewicz

Get to know Center researchers with this new periodic feature!

Dr. Amy JurewiczDr. Amy Jurewicz is an Assistant Research Profes­sor in the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS) and School of Earth and Space Exploration. Her research in the Center is focused on the recovery, analysis, and interpretation of materials from the NASA Genesis mission, which collected solar wind samples for two years prior to a hard landing in Utah upon its return to Earth.

Solar wind samples are a good surrogate for the solar nebula because a preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the outer layer of the Sun preserves the composition of the early solar nebula.

For most rock-forming elements, the process of solar wind ejection from the Sun does, however, cause significant fractionation of some elements and isotopes. So, Genesis research requires collaboration with solar physicists and, in addition to finding a surrogate for the solar nebula, provides information on solar processes.

CMS: How were you first drawn to meteoritics, cosmochemistry, and NASA?
Jurewicz: My undergraduate degree was a BA in geology (Phi Beta Kappa) from Occidental College, but I took classes at Caltech, a nearby school, where I considered going as a grad student in paleontology under H. Lowenstam. I wasn’t accepted at Caltech for grad school because I managed to graduate Occidental without any chemistry. My graduate work was primarily at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI; Troy, NY), first in structural geology (microstructure) with M. Brian Bayly, and I took classes with W. Means at SUNY Albany. I started chemistry by taking graduate-level physical chemistry. Then, after a short stint elsewhere, I returned to RPI and worked with E. Bruce Watson, doing high-temperature, controlled-atmosphere phase-equilibrium and diffusion experiments for my PhD.

It seemed like every kid of my generation wanted to be an astronaut and developed a fascination with NASA. For me, that seed started watching the Apollo 11 landing, but didn’t develop until after my PhD in high-temperature experimental petrology of earthly basalts and post-doctoral research at the US Air Force Research Laboratory focused on fiber-reinforced ceramic composites. At that point, my husband and I had moved to Houston and I had the choice of being a ceramic engineer for a start-up company vs. being a post-doctoral researcher in the experimental petrology labs at the Johnson Space Center (JSC). The engineering position paid 30% more, but the NASA job was located next to the astronaut’s gym and I got to play with synthetic molten basalts. It was a no-brainer for me to go to NASA.

Dr. Amy Jurewicz
Dr. Amy Jurewicz inside JPL cleanroom, 2001.
I should note that, unlike most academics, in 1995 I took a break from NASA work, becoming an engineer for a company producing diamond-tungsten carbide cutting tools for the oil industry. My husband, the company's director of research, had also moved there from JSC. This joint career move was for the purpose of allowing me to more easily take care of my father, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. It was only in 1997 (after a year of living at home trying to keep my father safe) that I returned to NASA. I was hired for the Stardust Aerogel Team at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the recommendation of Gerry Wasserberg, for whom I had done some diffusion work.

CMS: Tell us more about your work on NASA missions.
Jurewicz: There were 3 main missions: Genesis (solar wind sample return), Stardust (comet sample return) and SCIM (Mars dust sample return).

Genesis – Still active and “project scientist”. Unlike most JPL project scientists, I did not work with the administration. Instead, I characterized, purchased and/or fabricated collector materials and interfaced between the Principal Investigator and JPL engineering on some of the projects, such as the collector foil experiment.

Genesis Payload
Genesis payload being tested in the JSC cleanrooms. The stack of plates are arrays of solar-wind collectors (colored hexagons) to be deployed for different solar wind regimes (bulk on top). The gold dish is an electrostatic mirror designed to concentrate solar wind and embed it in the center target.
Stardust – My role on the Aerogel Team was aerogel inspector, which included physically testing the aerogel’s ability to catch particulates using the hypervelocity gun lab at NASA Ames.

SCIM — The mission was proposed several times, but was closest to flying in 2003 when it lost on the second round to the Phoenix Lander, but I would start again in a NY minute. I sequentially filled multiple positions from the project's inception through its many iterations, including JPL’s SCIM Project Scientist, Co-Investigator (2003), and lead on the dust collector (DUCE). The most fun was arcjet testing aerogel at Ames to study the thermal stability of aerogel during the aeropass, and participating in the design, testing, and fabrication of the aerogel collector modules to ensure that the martian dust SCIM collected would be suitable for scientific study.

CMS: You’re very active in both your research and public outreach; tell us why you love what you do.
Jurewicz: I am simply fascinated by the workings of the natural world. It doesn’t matter if it is the way a defect moves through a crystal or how the Sun makes (and ejects) solar wind. I am addicted to looking at data and seeing trends that explain processes, especially how materials are made and subsequently change.

I love telling people about meteorites and what they mean as bits of returned sample. I love pallasites and metallic meteorites because I can tell the unsuspecting that they are snapshots into the interior of a solar system body that might have been trying to form a planet. Then I tell them that the Sun is 99% of the solar system, that we can use it as a “fossil” of the solar nebula, and then hand them a piece of the Allende meteorite and tell them that they are, in essence, holding a piece of the Sun. How can you have more fun than that?

Read more about Dr. Jurewicz’s research, here!

In 2011, Dr. Jurewicz was listed as one of the 51+ Women in Planetary Science – read her interview, here!

Recent publications:

Jurewicz A. J. G., Rieck K. D., Hervig R., Burnett D. S., Wadhwa M., Olinger C. T., Wiens R. C., Laming J. M., Guan Y., Huss G. R., Reisenfeld D. B., and Williams P. (2020) Magnesium isotopes of the bulk solar wind from Genesis diamond-like carbon films. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 1-25. https://doi.org/10.1111/maps.13439

Burnett D. S., Jurewicz A. J. G., and Woolum D. S. (2019) The future of Genesis Science. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 54(5): 1092-1114.

Huss G. R., Koeman-Shields E., Jurewicz A. J. G., Burnett D. S., Nagashima K., Ogliore R., and Olinger C. T. (2019) Hydrogen fluence in Genesis collectors: Implications for acceleration of solar wind and for solar metallicity. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1111/maps.13420