THOMAS J. WDOWIAK, Associate Professor
(205) 934-8036, email@example.com
What is interstellar dust and did life exist on Mars?
The mission of the UAB Astrophysics
and the Instrumentation for Space Exploration Laboratories is to understand
organic dust of interstellar space and its transformation into solar system
materials, and to participate in the exploration of Mars from the perspective
of exobiology. As a CoInvestigator on the Mars 2003 Athena mission
with dual-rovers to be landed January 4 and February 9, 2004, I am investigating
Mössbauer spectroscopy for understanding conditions during the early
history of Mars and assisting in searching for evidence of past life on
that planet. An exciting project for future landed rover missions
is participation with Washington University, Cornell, and the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, in the development of a laser-Raman spectrometer for analysis
of minerals and searching for carbonaceous residues of ancient life.
Using Raman spectroscopy, a UAB-UCLA team has been able to identify organic
matter at the cell level for fossils hundreds of millions, and even billions,
of years old. This capability surely will be useful if candidates
for martian fossils are ever brought to Earth! Our interests also extends
to Jupiter's moon Europa, and in that regard we are trying to figure out
how to best utilize time-of-flight mass spectroscopy to, not only be able
to analyze the smaller molecules of that world's icy crust, but also search
for very large molecules, biopolymers, should they be brought to the surface
by upwellings from an ocean below through the cracked ice crust.
If such biopolymers are present, it would tell us that life exists in a
sub-ice ocean, much like sea foam at the beach, consisting of biopolymers,
is a signature of terrestrial ocean life.
Our Laboratory Astrophysics projects, focusing on
the hydrocarbon portion of interstellar dust, indicate the naphthalene
molecule is the basis for formation of more complex dust material.
These experiments help interpret observations with telescopes, including
those utilized in space. By subjecting our laboratory versions of
soot-like interstellar molecules, that can form at the end of a star's
life, to high temperature water we have found that they are transformed
into the kind of organic matter found in meteorites known as carbonaceous
chondrites. This suggests that the mineral bodies, tens of kilometers
across and called planetesimals, that were formed at the beginning of the
Solar System, were cosmic pressure-cooker "crockpots". Meteorites
originate from asteroids, which are leftover planetesimals from that period
in that they never became part of a planet like Earth or Mars!
Speaking of asteroids, an interesting project, for
a decade now, has been to understand the details of the impact event that
rendered a lot of life on Earth extinct, including knocking off the dinosaurs.
A result is the finding that a thin iron-rich layer, which appears to have
been spread over the entire planet 65 million years ago, is what remains
of the actual asteroid or comet that did the extinction deed.
Having been a scientist since the age of seven,
which means I've been doing it for 54 years, I, each month, become "Tommy
Test Tubes" in the Saturday edition of the Birmingham News / Post Herald
presenting a full-page, in color, kid's section of science experiments,
all based on, and tested by, my childhood experiences. The experiments
utilize things found in the home, at the supermarket, home improvements
store, and of course Radio Shack. The very first experiment actually
used the unprinted bottom of the newspaper to separate out colored molecules
with vinegar by chromatography. The second experiment showed how
to transform a shoebox, a CD with case, some stiff paper, a stick, rubber
band and tape into a spectroscope capable of showing the presence of the
atoms in the outer layers of the Sun (and in fluorescent lights, street
lights, neon signs, etc.).
The research is supported by NASA programs including
the Athena 2003 mission, Exobiology, Origins of Solar Systems, Planetary
Instrument Definition and Development, and Space Astronomy Research and
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
In situ laser-Raman imagery of Precambrian microscopic fossils.
A.B. Kudryavtsev, J.W. Schopf, D.G. Agresti, and T.J. Wdowiak, Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 98, 823-826, 2001.
Presence of an iron-rich nanophase material in the upper layer of the
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary clay. T.J. Wdowiak, L.P. Armendarez,
D.G. Agresti, M.L. Wade, S.Y. Wdowiak, P. Claeys, and G. Izett, Meteoritics
& Planetary Science, Vol. 36, 123-133, 2001.
The Athena science payload for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers.
S.W. Squyres and the Athena Science Team (including T. Wdowiak), in First
Landing Site Workshop for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers (Lunar and Planetary
Institute, Houston), LPI Contribution No. 1079, 65-66, 2001.
The Athena Raman Spectrometer. A. Wang, L.A. Haskin, B. Jolliff,
T. Wdowiak, D. Agresti, A.L. Lane, and the Athena Science Team, in Concepts
and Approaches for Mars Exploration (Lunar and Planetary Institute), LPI
Contribution No. 1062, 304-305, 2000.
Laboratory investigation of the contribution of complex aromatic/aliphatic
polycyclic hybrid molecular structures to interstellar ultraviolet extinction
and infrared emission. K.M. Arnoult, T.J. Wdowiak, and L.W. Beegle,
Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 535, 815-822, 2000.
MALDI for Europa planetary science and exobiology. T.J. Wdowiak,
D.G. Agresti, and S.J. Clemett, in Lunar and Planetary Science XXXI (CD),
Aqueous processing in planetesimals of interstellar species. K.M.
Arnoult, T.J. Wdowiak, M.L. Wade, J.R. Garner, L.W. Beegle, and B.G. Coltress,
in Lunar and Planetary Science XXXI (CD), 1472, 2000.
An impact tool for in situ planetary geology. J.F. McHone and
T.J. Wdowiak, in Lunar and Planetary Science XXXI (CD), 1525, 2000.
A Mössbauer investigation of iron-rich terrestrial hydrothermal
vent systems: Lessons for Mars exploration. M.L. Wade, D.G. Agresti,
T.J. Wdowiak, L.P. Armendarez, and J.D. Farmer, J. Geophys. Res.,
Vol. 104 (E4), 8,489-8,507, 1999.
Raman imagery of Martian meteorites. J.F. McHone, A.B. Kudryavtsev,
D.G. Agresti, T.J. Wdowiak, and M. Killgore, in Lunar and Planetary
Science XXX (CD), 1896, 1999.
Experimental indication of a naphthalene-base molecular aggregate for
the carrier of the 2175 Å interstellar extinction feature. L.W. Beegle,
T.J. Wdowiak, M.S. Robinson, J.R. Cronin, M.D. McGehee, S.J. Clemett, and
S. Gillette, Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 487, 976-982, 1997.
A laboratory analog for the carrier of the 3 micron emission of the
protoplanetary nebula IRAS 05341+0852. L.W. Beegle, T.J. Wdowiak,
and K.M. Arnoult, Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 486, L153-L155, 1997.
Inference of a 7.75 eV lower limit in the UV pumping of interstellar
PAH cations with resulting UIR emissions. M.S. Robinson, L.W. Beegle,
and T.J. Wdowiak, Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 474, 474-478, 1997.
Origin of the hydrocarbon component of carbonaceous chondrites: the
star-meteorite connection, W. Lee and T.J. Wdowiak. Astrophysical Journal
417, L49 (1993).