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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.

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