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2012 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

Project 4: Survival of Sugars in Ice/Mineral Mixtures on High Velocity Impact

Project Summary

Understanding the delivery and preservation of organic molecules in meteoritic material is important to understanding the origin of life on Earth. Though we know that organic molecules are abundant in meteorites, comets, and interplanetary dust particles, few studies have examined how impact processes affect their chemistry and survivability under extreme temperatures and pressures. We are investigating how impact events may change the structure of simple sugars, both alone and when combined with ice mixtures. The experiments will allow us to understand how sugar chemistry is affected by high pressure events and to contrast the survival probabilities of sugars in meteorite and comet impacts. This will lead to a better understanding of how organic molecules are affected during their delivery to Earth. This project leverages expertise in two different NAI nodes, increasing collaborative interaction among NAI investigators.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

In April/May 2012, McCaffrey, Zellner, and Gudipati returned to the Experimental Impact Laboratory (EIL) at NASA Johnson Space Center to conduct additional experiments with the flat-plate accelerator (FPA) in order to further understand the results of the August 2011 experiments. This time, the experiments included samples of DHA + clay and GLA + DHA + clay, as well as follow-up experiments of “neat” DHA, which again resulted in the powder sample turning into a liquid after the impact. We have additionally detected more complex sugars, which were most likely made in the impact experiments. The FPA is currently being reconfigured for the ice experiments, and we are hopeful that a solution can be obtained. We anticipate shock experiments involving ice to be funded by our NASA Exobiology grant (NNX12AG79G; Zellner, PI), the award of which resulted from this NAI DDF grant.

During her sabbatical time in Australia (Fall 2011), Zellner presented aspects of this work at several university talks.

During Summer 2012, three students (two chemistry, one physics) worked with us. Erica Earl worked with McCaffrey at Albion College to understand the chemistry of unshocked GLA on the surface of montmorillonite clays in liquid solution. Casey Waun worked with Gudipati at JPL, using MALDI to obtain mass spectra of unshocked and shocked GLA and DHA, and Kelsi Blauvelt worked with Gudipati at JPL to customize LABVIEW programming to interface the software of the MADLI stepper motors so that they could move independently in the x-, y-, and z-directions, as indicated by user input.

Conference presentations of this work occurred at the American Chemical Society Meeting (April 2012) and at the Albion College Elkin Isaac Student Symposium (April 2012). One student also presented a summary of her summer project at the Albion College Physics Department Seminar (September 2012).

    Nicolle Zellner Nicolle Zellner
    Project Investigator
    Murthy Gudipati

    Vanessa McCaffrey

    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere.

    Objective 4.3
    Effects of extraterrestrial events upon the biosphere