Hi! My name is Haley and I’m an undergraduate researcher at the University of Florida (UF) pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Cell Science. Before transferring to UF, I received my A.A. from Santa Fe College.
What do you do? I perform research in the field of astrobiology, the study of whether extraterrestrial life exists, and if it does, how might humans detect it. A common strategy for determining whether a planet used to, or currently does, contain extraterrestrial life is to look for biosignatures. A biosignature is anything that provides scientific evidence of past or present life. Rocks on Earth are commonly used for testing and validating biosignature detection strategies. However, rocks on Earth don’t perfectly match up to the rocks we would see on other planets, specifically Mars. One of the differences between the rocks on Earth and the rocks on Mars is that the rocks on Mars’ surface are much older (> 3.5 Ga) than those on Earth’s surface. This major age difference brings into question how accurate our Earth-sourced Martian analogs are. In order to address this question, my research focuses on how effective a specific biosignature detection strategy called tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) thermochemolysis is at detecting organic molecules in rocks ranging from 1.1-3.2 Ga.
My research directly supports multiple NASA astrobiology missions; however, its biggest impact is seen when interpreting the data gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover which landed on Mars in 2012. Curiosity has performed TMAH thermochemolysis on Martian rocks and the data from this experiment has been downlinked back to Earth. My research directly helps the scientists at NASA interpret this TMAH thermochemolysis data.
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists? Understand and accept that science requires perseverance. Nothing about science is easy, but if you can persist in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success, you will go a long way.