Australian Acid Playa Lake as Mars Analog

 

NASA Astrobiology Institute GSFC URAA Program

The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) hosts a ten-week internship program every summer called Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology (URAA) at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and the University of Maryland. During the ten-week period the Research Associates conduct an intensive research project under the direction of an individual mentor; the mentors are members of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology. At the end of the program, Research Associates present their work in a NAI Forum in Astrobiology Research (FAR) public seminar.


Abstract

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PowerPoint Presentation

Below is the PowerPoint Presentation used during the NAI FAR seminar. I would recommend watching the seminar in order to obtain a better understanding of the project. The information in the sections below is far more thorough than the PowerPoint or the seminar presentation.


My Contribution to the Project

I was the only researcher on the project but I relied on the guidance of my mentors at Goddard, they directed me through the project, provided important information, and taught me how to use the laboratory equipment. The first step was a thorough literature search in order to understand the background of the project; during the first week of the internship program I read papers regarding Martian geology and that of the sample site, textbook chapters on isotope analysis and mineralogy, experimental protocols for biomarker (lipid and DNA) extraction and analysis, and many other papers on biogeochemistry. After a week of reading, going through laboratory tours, and learning how to use the Elemental Analysis/Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer (EA/IRMS), I was prepared for laboratory work. The first part of the project consisted of preparing the samples for the EA/IRMS, to do this I crushed and sieved the dried out sediment cores extracted from Lake Gilmore in Southwestern Australia. I then weighed out the samples and standards and placed them into small tin cups for introduction into the EA/IRMS. I then placed the samples into the EA/IRMS, collected the results, and preformed calibrations and error calculations in order to obtain the true values when compared to Pee Dee Belemnite. After the correction, a depth profile analysis was preformed and graphed in order to visually represent the Total Organic Carbon (TOC) and δ13C distribution. Once all of the results were properly graphed, I put together a PowerPoint presentation and prepared for the NAI FAR seminar.

During the ten-week program, the EA/IRMS would periodically stop working, consequently I had to pause my research and thus I had the opportunity to learn about and preform alternative protocols for the investigation. My mentor and I tried using Raman Spectroscopy to obtain a better understanding of the soil composition; unfortunately Raman Spectroscopy proved to be inadequate for our sample type due to the fact that it required a more homogenous mixture. We also considered Phospholipid Fatty Acid (PLFA) analysis and therefore I spent a few days investigating the optimal extraction methodology for acidic sediment. I also learned how to use a Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS) by helping my mentor with a different project, which required a large amount of GC/MS analysis.


Important Acronyms

EA/IRMS - Elemental Analysis / Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer
FAR - Forum in Astrobiology Research
GSFC - Goddard Space Flight Center
NAI - NASA Astrobiology Institute
TOC - Total Organic Carbon
URAA - Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology
XRD - X-ray Diffraction


Introduction

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Laboratory Methods

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Results


Discussion

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Conclusion

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Bibliography

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