Elliott Mueller’s co-op is out of this world. (Sorry, folks, we had to.) While on co-op at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Mueller is testing Martian meteorites and lunar samples from the Apollo missions.
Mueller, a chemistry and environmental science major with a geoscience concentration, says his co-op is very finely tuned to overlap those fields and his interests.
Mueller is working with Dr. Sune Nielsen doing research on the isotopes of an element called vanadium in chondritic meteorites, Martian meteorites and Lunar samples from the Apollo missions. He explains, “These meteorites are “chondritic” because they are composed of “chondrules”. Chondrules are small rounded rocks and are plausibly the first solids to form in our Solar System. Thus, they store a copious amount chemical evidence to constrain what the Solar System was like over 4.5 billion years ago.”
In the lab, Mueller dissolves the rocks in hydrofluoric acid, a highly caustic solution. He then uses the ion exchange chromatography to separate the vanadium from the rest of the elements in a rock such as magnesium, sodium, titanium, chromium, and others. The samples are then put through a mass spectrometer to analyze the pure vanadium for its isotopic composition.
“This data, if precise enough, can give us information on the conditions of the Solar System at its very beginning. The vanadium in the Apollo samples can also provide insight on how the Moon actually formed,” writes Mueller.
His project, which is funded by a grant from NASA, started in January and will continue after he leaves next month.