Colloquium PhD Defense: Kyle Uckert
Aug 26 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Kyle Uckert @ BX102

Characterization of Biosignatures within Geologic Samples Analyzed using a Suite of in situ Techniques

Kyle Uckert, NMSU   

I investigated the biosignature detection capabilities of several in situ techniques to evaluate their potential to
detect the presence of extant or extinct life on other planetary surfaces. These instruments included: a laser desorption
time-of- flight mass spectrometer (LD-TOF-MS), an acousto-optic tunable filter (AOTF) infrared (IR) point spectrometer, a
laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (LIBS), X-ray diffraction (XRD)/X-ray fluorescence (XRF), and scanning electron
microscopy (SEM)/energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy (EDS). I measured the IR reflectance spectra of several speleothems
in caves in situ to detect the presence of biomineralization. Microorganisms (such as those that may exist on other solar
system bodies) mediate redox reactions to obtain energy for growth and reproduction, producing minerals such as
carbonates, metal oxides, and sulfates as waste products. Microbes occasionally become entombed in their mineral
excrement, essentially acting as a nucleation site for further crystal growth. This process produces minerals with a
crystal lattice distinct from geologic precipitation, detectable with IR reflectance spectroscopy. Using a suite of
samples collected from three subterranean environments, along with statistical analyses including principal component
analysis, I measured subsurface biosignatures associated with these biomineralization effects, including the presence of
trace elements, morphological characteristics, organic molecules, and amorphous crystal structures.

I also explored the optimization of a two-step LD-TOF-MS (L2MS) for the detection of organic molecules and other
biosignatures. I focused my efforts on characterizing the L2MS desorption IR laser wavelength dependence on organic
detection sensitivity in an effort to optimize the detection of high mass (≤100 Da) organic peaks. I analyzed samples
with an IR reflectance spectrometer and an L2MS with a tunable desorption IR laser whose wavelength range (2.7 – 3.45
microns) overlaps that of our IR spectrometer (1.6 – 3.6 microns), and discovered a IR resonance enhancement effect. A
correlation between the maximum IR absorption of organic functional group and mineral vibrational transitions – inferred
from the IR spectrum – and the optimal IR laser configuration for organic detection using L2MS indicates that IR
spectroscopy may be used to inform the optimal L2MS IR laser wavelength for organic detection. This work suggests that a
suite of instruments, particularly LD-TOF-MS and AOTF IR spectroscopy, has strong biosignature detection potential on a
future robotic platform for investigations of other planetary surfaces or subsurfaces.

Colloquium Thesis Proposal: Ethan Dederick
Sep 20 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Colloquium Thesis Proposal: Ethan Dederick @ Science Hall 310

Utilizing Planetary Oscillations to Constrain the Interior Structure of the Jovian Planets

Ethan Dederick

Seismology has been the premier tool of study for understanding the
interior structure of the Earth, the Sun, and even other stars. Yet in this
thesis proposal, we wish to utilize these tools to understand the interior
structure of the Jovian planets, Saturn in particular. Recent observations
of spiral density structures in Saturn’s rings caused by its oscillations
have provided insight into which modes exist within Saturn and at what
frequencies. Utilizing these frequencies to compare to probable mode can-
didates calculated from Saturn models will also us to ascertain the interior
profiles of state variables such as density, sound speed, rotation, etc. Using
these profiles in a Saturn model, coupled with tweaking the interior struc-
ture of the model, i.e. the inclusion of stably stratified regions, should
allow us to explain which modes are responsible for the density structures
in the rings, as well as predict where to look to find more such structures.
In doing so, we will not only have a much greater understanding of Sat-
urn’s interior structure, but will have constructed a method that can also
be applied to Jupiter once observations of its mode frequencies become
available. In addition, we seek to explain if moist convection on Jupiter is
responsible for exciting its modes. We aim to do this by modeling Jupiter
as a 2D harmonic oscillator. By creating a resonance between moist con-
vective storms and Jovian modes, we hope to match the expected mode
energies and surface displacements of Jupiter’s oscillations.

NM Spacegrant Fellowships (students)
Oct 28 all-day

New Mexico Space Grant Consortium invites undergraduates through PhD-level students in the areas of Engineering, Science, and Math to participate in the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium Scholarship/Fellowship Program.

Graduate Students $10,000/academic year
Undergraduate Students $5,000/academic year

Student eligibility requirements:
Engineering, Science, Math Majors may apply
Full time student
United States citizenship required
Cumulative GPA of 3.0

Apply online:



Applications Due: October 28, 2016
Announcement of Award: November 23, 2016
Award dates: Spring 2017 and Fall 2017

Colloquium PhD Defense: Sean Markert
Mar 31 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Defense: Sean Markert


Dr. S. Markert, NMSU


The weak gravitational lensing of galaxy clusters is a valuable tool. The deflection of light around a lens is solely dependent on the underlying distribution of foreground mass, and independent of tracers of mass such as the mass to light ratio and kinematics. As a direct probe of mass, weak lensing serves as an independent calibration of mass-observable relationships. These massive clusters are objects of great interest to astronomers, as their abundance is dependent on the conditions of the early universe, and accurate counts of clusters serve as a test of cosmological model. Upcoming surveys, such as LSST and DES, promise to push the limit of observable weak lensing, detecting clusters and sources at higher redshift than has ever been detected before. This makes accurate counts of clusters of a given mass and redshift, and proper calibration of mass-observable relationships, vital to cosmological studies.
We used M> 10 13.5 h −1 M ⊙ halos from the MultiDark Planck simulation at z∼0.5 to study the behavior of the reduced shear in clusters. We generated 2D maps of convergence and shear the halos using the GLAMER lensing library. Using these maps, we simulated observations of randomly placed background sources, and generate azimuthal averages of the shear. This reduced shear profile, and the true reduced shear profile of the halo, is fit using analytical solutions for shear of the NFW, Einasto, and truncated NFW density profile. The masses of these density profiles are then compared to the total halo masses from the halo catalogs.
We find that fits to the reduced shear for halos extending past ≈ 2 h −1 Mpc are fits to the noise of large scale structure along the line of sight. This noise is largely in the 45 ◦ rotated component to the reduced tangential shear, and is a breakdown in the approximation of g tan ≈g tot required for density profile fitting of clusters. If fits are constrained to a projected radii of < 2 h −1 Mpc, we see massively improved fits insensitive to the amount of structure present along the line of sight.

Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Gordon MacDonald
Mar 2 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium PhD Thesis Defense: Gordon MacDonald @ BX102

Colloquium Title

Gordon MacDonald, NMSU