New NASA Grant to Robert A. Pritzker Center Team

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 09:40 -- Anonymous (not verified)

Philipp Heck (Robert A. Pritzker Associate Curator for Meteoritics and Polar Studies) has received a grant from NASA’s Emerging Worlds program. Together with Resident Grad Student Jennika Greer (University of Chicago) and collaborators from Northwestern University and ETH Zurich, Switzerland, the research will focus on “Underexplored aspects of the history of our solar system’s presolar starting material.” The knowledge of the origin of the starting material of our Solar System is an issue of fundamental interest in planetary science. After the discovery of presolar grains in 1987 (by Edward Anders, Roy S. Lewis and their colleagues at the University of Chicago), it was possible to study solid samples of stars in the laboratory for the first time, providing a unique perspective on the origin and composition of the material from which the Solar System formed. However, most studies have focused on the larger size fraction of grains, which are rarer and therefore less representative. Philipp and colleagues will focus on presolar nanograins that are too small to study with conventional analytical techniques. Philipp’s group has pioneered the use of atom-probe tomography to study the composition of extraterrestrial samples with a goal of better understanding the origins of these understudied samples, and hence our origins, information not obtainable otherwise. The team will also significantly extend the known ages of presolar grains, information that is currently very limited. The team will apply a unique analytical method developed by Philipp and collaborators, and improved physics, to determine the presolar chronology of the Solar System’s starting material. The Murchison meteorite from the Field Museum’s collection will serve as the main source for presolar grains.