NASA AMASE 2008: Day 3: AMASEry Goodness to Date


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August 6, 2008 / Written by: Marc Fries

Howdy! I'm Marc Fries from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the resident Texan. My "job" here is mainly to do some Raman spectroscopy of mineral samples collected from the various field sites here. Raman has nothing to do with noodles. It's a technique for identifying minerals, among other things. I've cobbled together a two-color Raman spectrometer, meaning that it uses lasers of two different colors to collect spectra. This mighty fine piece of hardware is called the Point Observation Spectrometer for Extreme Environments 2000, or P.O.S.E.E. 2k for short.

And yes, it's a joke. But the instrument is real.

Now, one of the most important things we do here on AMASE is instrument testing. In other words, we take our wanna-be instruments out into the cold and mud and polar bears and see what breaks so that we can improve them. In that respect, the mighty fine P.O.S.E.E. 2k is an overachiever - the darned thing doesn't work at all! The laser for one color conked out, and the spectrometer for the other did likewise. That turns my complicated piece of sophisticated, scientific equipment into a complicated paperweight.

Oh well. Research funding isn't spent on the things that already work, ya know. It'll all be fine, given some work once I get back to a well-equipped laboratory. It just won't be fine while I'm out here.

Luckily for me, testing my balky equipment isn't my only task here. I've got a lumbering beast of a Raman spectrometer to analyze samples brought back to the ship, and that one is working like a champ. Once we get to the Palander ice cap next week, I'll devote my time to performing a reconnaissance for meteorites there, switching topics entirely from Raman spectroscopy to Rocks From Space. The theme is - have a plan! You don't actually have to use it, but keep it handy.

Periodically I'm asked what kind of scientist I am. In other words, am I a geologist, or an astrobiologist, or a phlebotomist, or a witch doctor. The answer is, darned if I know. I was trained as a materials scientist with an emphasis on analytical techniques, but in the years since then I've picked up experience in everything from microbiology to geology to meteoritics (the study of meteorites - no weather involved!), physical geology, geophysics, various works by Slater. The answer is that I don't know if any label fits, as far as titles go. I'm a scientist, and that answer will have to suffice. The reason I bring this up is that it applies pretty broadly to everyone here. This is a very experienced group, full of young faces that have amassed a tremendous diversity of knowledge in an extraordinary array of topics. They're a fantastic group, which makes it extra-special bonus-fun to insult them freely and for no apparent reason. Apparently it's called team building.

That's it for now. I've spent a few days on board the R/V Lance so far, busting my gluteus on a boatload of dorks, and all is well to date. The scenery is absolutely unbelievable, the science is fascinating, the polar bears are thankfully absent for now (knock on simulated woodgrain), and the Raman spectroscopy photons are cheap and plentiful. I shall report on future madness as it unfolds. Cheers, Marc Fries Comment

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