Ohio University alum Kyle Uckert ’10, an Honors Tutorial College graduate who majored in Astrophysics, “is working on the development of instrumentation to help identify signs of life on bodies of the solar system,” reports the Silver City Sun News.
Now a graduate student at New Mexico State University, Uckert “has been selected as one of 65 graduate students in the 2013 class of NASA Space Technology Research Fellows and will receive funding for his work for three years,” the paper reports. He “s developing a two-step laser time-of-flight mass spectrometer to isolate materials within rocks, and identify and characterize biosignatures within geological samples.”
“I will identify the spectral characteristics of amino acids and other chains of basic organic compounds essential to life on Earth,” he told reporter Isabel Rodriguez. “The mass spectrometer uses a laser to ablate materials off of rocks. The plasma-like material is then accelerated into a detector, which helps measure chemical constituents of samples. We’re able to infer from this whether there’s any organic matter and identify any signs of present or past life on the rock.”
At Ohio University, Uckert was mentored by Dr. Martin Kordesch, Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts & Sciences. His thesis project was “High Temperature Resistivity and Hall Effect Measurements of Conductivity and Semiconductive Thin Films.”