Dragonfly Student and Early Career Investigator Program, Cohort #2: Development of DraMS Instrument Operational Guidelines

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SES - Space Exploration Sector

Dragonfly Student and Early Career Investigator Program, Cohort #2: Development of DraMS Instrument Operational Guidelines 

MENTOR: Dr. Melissa Trainer, NASA GSFC

BACKGROUND: The Dragonfly payload includes the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer, an instrument that will analyze and determine the chemical composition of samples that are drilled from the surface of Titan, specifically targeting organic molecules.  At its core, DraMS is an ion trap mass spectrometer that measures ions (charged molecules) based on their molecular mass, which is related to the chemical structure.  Solid samples are delivered to the inlets of DraMS by the sampling system, and the molecules in the solids can be probed in one of two ways: (1) laser desorption mode (LDMS), in which heavy molecules are “zapped” with an ultraviolet laser to create ions that are sent into the ion trap, and (2) gas chromatography mode (GCMS), in which samples are heated to ~600°C (>~1100°F) in an oven, and the evolved gases sent through gas chromatography columns that separate them out by size and type before an electron beam converts them into ions for measurement in the mass spectrometer. These two modes allow DraMS to probe different aspects of the sample composition.  

DESCRIPTION: This project is one of a set of three projects for the Dragonfly Student and Early Career Investigator Program Cohort #2. One applicant will be selected for each project for a 2-year position spending 30% time annually on the project and attending Dragonfly team meetings, to be completed while pursuing a graduate degree in a STEM field at a U.S. college or university. This program targets student investigators who would not otherwise have opportunities to participate in a flight planetary science mission. More information on the program can be found on the Dragonfly web site at https://dragonfly.jhuapl.edu/Student-Opportunities/.

This project focuses on the LDMS mode of DraMS, and robustness to different surface sample compositions.  Specifically, the student will work with DraMS scientists to explore the capability of LDMS to help us identify samples where the salt content may exceed the threshold for successful analysis using GCMS mode. The student would be trained to use our commercial LDMS instruments at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) to measure a wide array of samples. 

TASKS: The project entails:

  1. Preparation of simulant surface samples with quantitative organic and salt contents. Examples include organic molecules (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, amino acids, etc.) in the presence of NaCl, MgSO4, and other salts that are anticipated to be present in the ice crust of Titan.
  2. Measurement of samples with the laboratory LDMS instrument at ambient conditions.
  3. Data analysis and interpretation, with preparation and presentation of findings to the DraMS science team.
  4. Collaboration with gas chromatography scientists to develop further experiments identifying GCMS thresholds and sensitivities to salts.
  5. Depending on progress, in the second year the student would repeat tasks 1-4 using a cryogenic apparatus that simulates the sample conditions for Dragonfly.

This project will primarily be completed in laboratories at NASA GSFC but in close collaboration with French gas chromatography colleagues residing at several institutions including Laboratoire atmosphères, milieux, observations spatiales (LATMOS), Laboratoire Interuniversitaire des Systèmes Atmosphériques (LISA), and Laboratoire pascal d’ingenierie geotechnique et des materiaux (LPGM).

OUTCOME: This project will contribute to the development of the DraMS instrument and the operational guidelines for both LDMS and GCMS measurements of surface samples. Results generated would aid in the interpretation of future DraMS results, and will be archived at NASA GSFC for further analysis. The study could potentially be published in a scientific journal or presented at a scientific conference. The findings will also be compared with results from a concurrent study on the development of spectral/compositional library for interpretation of DragonCam/DraGNS measurements as part of a larger effort to prepare for surface operations on Titan.

 

 

 

 

Academic Discipline Desired:

STEM field

 

Required Skills:

This project requires the ability to work both independently and in a team environment. Successful completion of some coursework in Chemistry is required. Laboratory experience in any physical science or engineering field is also required. Appllicants must be U.S. citizens.

 

Desired Skills:

Experience with organic chemistry and/or analytical chemistry is desired. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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