Wadhwa appointed Mars Sample Return program scientist

Mini Wadhwa
Photo: ASU
School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa has been appointed as the Mars Sample Return program scientist. In this role, she will be responsible for the scientific integrity and the overall scientific success of the program. Bobby Braun, Director of planetary Science at JPL, said he couldn’t imagine a better person to take this role at this critical time in the Mars Sample Return program.

The Mars Sample Return program (planned jointly by NASA and ESA), will return samples collected by the Perseverance rover from the surface of Mars to Earth by way of a Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) and an Earth Return Orbiter (ERO). Launch dates for both the SRL and ERO missions are anticipated to be in the 2026–2028 timeframe, with samples of Martian rocks, soils and atmosphere returning to Earth as early as 2031 for detailed laboratory analysis.

Congratulations Dr. Wadhwa!

Read the full story here, on ASU News.

Karin Valentine | Media Relations & Marketing Manager
Arizona State University | School of Earth & Space Exploration 

Wadhwa awarded international geochemistry fellowship

This article originally appeared in ASU News.

The Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry have announced that School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa has been honored with the title of geochemistry fellow for her major contribution to the field of geochemistry.

In 1996, the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry established the honorary title of geochemistry fellow, to be bestowed upon outstanding scientists who have, over some years, made a major contribution to the field.

“Scientific excellence is a core value of both the Geochemical Society and European Association of Geochemistry, and it is our privilege, by rewarding it, to take a leading role in its definition. In awarding geochemistry fellows, our societies believe it is important to recognize the broad spectrum of scientific achievements that advance geochemistry,” the societies stated in their joint announcement.

Among Wadhwa’s many groundbreaking accomplishments in geochemistry is her use of long-lived and short-lived radioisotopes to refine the age of the solar system and determine the timing of the earliest processes in the solar nebula and on planetary bodies. Her studies of the trace elements and stable isotopes (especially hydrogen) in meteoritic minerals have also allowed her to develop new ways to interpret that data and reveal planetary secrets, particularly those of Mars.

“We are proud of the global reputation that Professor Wadhwa has developed throughout her career, with this award being the most recent validation of her groundbreaking research and leadership in the field of geochemistry,” said ASU Provost Pro Tempore Nancy Gonzales. “Her scholarship is creating new knowledge that informs space exploration missions — including NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which successfully landed on Mars just last week.” 

In addition to serving as director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Wadhwa is on the NASA Advisory Council and chairs its science committee. She also is serving on the joint NASA-ESA Mars Sample Planning Group. She was president of the Meteoritical Society for the past two years, recently served on the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board and the National Academies Space Studies Board and is the recent recipient of the 2021 National Academy of Sciences J. Lawrence Smith Medal for her extraordinary scientific achievements.

“Getting to do what I love to do, and mentoring students and early career researchers along the way, is a reward in itself,” said Wadhwa. “But I am incredibly honored to be recognized in this way by my colleagues in the geochemistry and cosmochemistry communities.”

Wadhwa joins 15 other geochemists receiving the 2021 honorary Geochemistry Fellowship, representing Washington University, the University of Delaware, the University of Utah, Stanford University, the University of California Los Angeles and Oregon State University, as well as international universities and research institutions in Australia, South Africa, France, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and Sweden. The awards will be presented at the society’s Goldschmidt Conference this summer.

About the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry

The Geochemical Society is a nonprofit scientific society founded in 1955 to encourage the application of geochemistry to improving our understanding of the Earth and solar system. Membership is international and diverse in background, encompassing such fields as organic geochemistry, high- and low-temperature geochemistry, petrology, meteoritics, fluid-rock interaction and isotope geochemistry.

The European Association of Geochemistry was officially established in 1985 with the goal of promoting geochemistry internationally and in particular providing a forum for the presentation of geochemistry, exchange of ideas, publications and recognition of scientific excellence.

Media Relations & Marketing manager
School of Earth and Space Exploration

 

ASU is becoming a NASA STEM hub

NASA has announced funding of 9 new proposals for the next phase of its Science Activation (SciAct) program, a community based approach to connect NASA science with learners of all ages. These new awardees join a network of 21 programs that received extensions into the next phase of the NASA program. ASU has received funding for 4 of the projects, making it a leader in NASA’s SciAct program.
 
Two of the programs are led by SESE faculty: Meenakshi Wadhwa is leading a new program called SCoPE; and Ariel Anbar is leading the renewed  Infiniscope program.
 
Learn more about these programs and the other two ASU programs that received SciAct funding here on ASU Now.
 
Karin Valentine
Media Relations & Marketing Manager
ASU School of Earth & Space Exploration 

New research on CV and CK meteorite classification

ICGL alumn Dr. Zachary Torrano, Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Jemma Davidson, and School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Prof. Meenakshi Wadhwa are co-authors of a new paper recently published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

The article, “A reclassification of Northwest Africa 2900 from CV3 to CK3 chondrite”, re-evaluates the classification of Northwest Africa (NWA) 2900, a carbonaceous chondrite found in 2004 within the North African Sahara, while also refining the classification criteria for Vigarano-like (CV) and Karoonda-like (CK) carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.

Torrano studied the isotopic compositions of calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs) in CV and CK chondrites during his doctoral thesis research at ASU and noticed that one of the meteorites he analyzed may have been misclassified.

NWA 2990
NWA 2990 meteorite. Photo: ASU/CMS/Davidson.

“I approached Jemma about investigating the petrology of NWA 2900 in more detail because I knew that she had experience studying CV and CK chondrites,” says Torrano.

As a meteorite petrologist, Davidson's interests include refining the criteria by which chondrites are classified and understanding the differences between groups; she has researched CV and CK chondrites for over a decade. The study was a perfect collaboration of interests and skillset.

“Refining meteorite classifications might seem mundane but it’s actually a very important, fundamental endeavor as meteorite classifications are the foundation upon which sample science studies are built,” says Davidson.   “An inaccurate classification can lead to a cascade of errors further down the line when researchers try to compare the characteristics of different meteorite groups.”

The authors performed detailed examinations of NWA 2900 and compared with data previously reported for CK and CV chondrites. Based on their findings, they propose that NWA 2900 be reclassified as a CK3 chondrite.

“This work not only reclassified NWA 2900, it also provided an updated framework within which future researchers can distinguish between CV and CK chondrites,” says Davidson. “These meteorite groups are very similar and often get mistaken for one another. This study – which builds on decades of prior work by expert petrologists in the field – will be invaluable in helping researchers distinguish between CV and CK chondrites.”

Read the full paper here, and read more about Torrano’s research here.

Read more about Davidson’s research here and here.

Torrano Z. A., Davidson J., and Wadhwa M. (2020) A reclassification of Northwest Africa 2900 from CV3 to CK3 chondrite. Meteoritics and Planetary Science 55(11): 2539–2550. https://doi.org/10.1111/maps.13587

 

National Academy of Sciences honors Meenakshi Wadhwa with J. Lawrence Smith Medal

This article originally appeared in ASU Now, January 21, 2021.

The National Academy of Sciences has announced that School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa will be honored with the 2021 J. Lawrence Smith Medal for her extraordinary scientific achievements.

“Wadhwa has deepened the world’s understanding of the evolutionary history of the solar system through her significant contributions to the sciences of cosmochemistry, solar system chronology, meteoritics and trace element geochemistry,” the academy stated in a release.

School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa has been awarded the 2021 J. Lawrence Smith Medal by the National Academy of Sciences. Photo by ASU
The J. Lawrence Smith Medal is awarded every three years for recent original and meritorious investigations of meteoric bodies. The award includes a $50,000 prize and was established as a gift from Sarah Julia Smith in memory of her husband. It has been presented since 1888.

“Professor Wadhwa is well-deserving of this prestigious award from the National Academy of Sciences,” said Arizona State University Provost Pro Tempore Nancy Gonzales. “Her trailblazing scholarship is leading to discoveries that are advancing her field and deepening our understanding of the cosmos. She is a committed scholar and leader who represents the best of ASU’s academic community.”

Among Wadhwa’s many groundbreaking accomplishments that led to this recognition is her use of long-lived radioisotopes to refine the age of the solar system, in the process correcting the commonly used ratio for decay. Her studies of the trace elements and stable isotopes (especially hydrogen) in meteoritic minerals have also allowed her to develop new ways to interpret that data and reveal planetary secrets, particularly those of Mars.

“I’m truly humbled when I think of those who were awarded this medal before me,” Wadhwa said. “But I’m also very honored, not just for myself but also for all the amazing students and postdoctoral researchers I’ve been so fortunate to work with over the years.”

In addition to serving as director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Wadhwa is currently on the NASA Advisory Council and chairs its science committee; she also is serving on the joint NASA-ESA Mars Sample Planning Group. She was president of the Meteoritical Society for the past two years, and recently also served on the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board and the National Academies Space Studies Board.

National Academy of Sciences announcement of the 2021 J. Lawrence Smith Medal to ASU’s Meenakshi Wadhwa. Credit: NAS/ASU

Wadhwa is among 20 individuals that the academy is recognizing for their achievements in a wide range of fields spanning the physical, biological, social and medical sciences. In addition to Wadhwa, award recipients include representatives from Brown University, Harvard University & Smithsonian, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, George Washington University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Montana State University, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, University of British Columbia, University of California at Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. They will be honored in a virtual ceremony during the National Academy of Sciences' 158th annual meeting April 24–26.

About the National Academy of Sciences

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Media Relations & Marketing Manager
ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration

Hayabusa2 returns to Earth

Launched in 2014, JAXA's Hayabusa2 is a spacecraft with a 6-year mission to intercept and sample the Class C asteroid Ryugu-162173, and return samples to Earth. The spacecraft departed Ryugu in December of 2019, and returned samples to Earth December 5, 2020*.

ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa is a member of the Hayabusa2 Initial Analysis Team for Chemistry.

For information on watching the live-stream of Hayabusa2's return to Earth, click here!

Continue reading

*December 6, Australia local time.

New addition to the lab!

The Wadhwa Research Group has a new family member: A Thermo Neptune Plus multi-collector mass spectrometer!

Neptune Plus
Meenakshi Wadhwa and Vinai Rai, with newly installed Neptune Plus. Photo: ASU/Wadhwa. Click to enlarge.
Installed and set up next to the first Wadhwa Neptune, the Neptune Plus is now up and running, and ready to analyze.

How does it work?

The sample is ionized by stripping off electrons and directing the ions, using electrostatic lenses in a high vacuum, to an electromagnet (or other type of mass analyzer). The ions are then separated by atomic weight and directed to one or a series of detectors. The resulting signals are fed into a computer that calculates isotope ratios and analytical uncertainties.

The Neptune's plasma is as hot as the surface of the Sun, essential for stripping electrons to convert neutral atoms in meteorites to ions we can count to learn about the origin & evolution of our Solar System!

Lit plasma
Lit plasma. Photo: ASU/Wadhwa.
At about 6000K, (~10340F) the plasma is hot enough to atomize the sample and ionize most elements (except those with very high first ionization potentials like noble gases!) to singly charged ions & some doubly charged ones. Photo: ASU/Wadhwa.

In the video below, you can watch as the installation team mounts the 973 lb magnet around the very delicate flight tube:

Congratulations, Dr. Zachary Torrano!

The Center for Meteorite Studies congratulates Dr. Zachary Torrano, who successfully defended his doctoral dissertation June, 30th (which, by happy coincidence, is Asteroid Day)!
 
Early Solar System Processes and Parent Body Relationships Recorded by Chromium and Titanium Isotopes in Meteorites
Meteorites and their components can be used to unravel the history of the early Solar System. Carbonaceous chondrites are meteorites that originated from undifferentiated parent bodies that formed within a few million years of the beginning of the Solar System. These meteorites contain calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs), which are the oldest dated solids in our Solar System at ~4.567 billion years old and thus preserve a record of the earliest stage of Solar System formation. The isotopic compositions of CAIs and bulk carbonaceous chondrites can be used to identify the sources of material inherited by our protoplanetary disk, assess the degree of mixing in the disk, and evaluate sample origins and potential genetic relationships between parent bodies. In particular, mass-independent Cr and Ti isotopic compositions have proven to be especially useful for these purposes.
 
In this work, Dr. Torrano first developed new methods for the chemical separation of Cr and Ti, improving the reliability of existing methods to ensure consistent yields and accurate isotopic measurements. He then measured the Cr and Ti isotopic compositions of CAIs from CV and CK chondrites to determine the extent of isotopic heterogeneity in the CAI-forming region and assess the role of CAIs in the preservation of planetary-scale isotopic anomalies. His results show that all measured CAIs originated from a common isotopic reservoir that incorporated material from at least three distinct nucleosynthetic sources and preserved limited isotopic heterogeneity. These results also suggest that planetary-scale isotopic anomalies cannot be attributed solely to the transport of CAIs from one part of the solar nebula to another. Dr. Torrano finally measured the Cr and Ti isotopic compositions of bulk CM, CO, and ungrouped chondrites to evaluate the relationship between CM and CO chondrites, which have been suggested to originate from either distinct but related parent bodies or a common compositionally heterogeneous parent body. The results suggest that CM, CO, and related ungrouped chondrites originated from distinct parent bodies that formed from similar precursor materials in nearby formation regions. These results may have implications for asteroid samples returned by the OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 missions.