OCCC STUDENT WINS NASA GRANT TO STUDY FALLING MICRO-METEORITES
Oregon Coast Community College student Haley Dean recently received some very big news about very tiny falling objects.
Haley’s big idea was to apply for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant to help support her search for tiny extra-terrestrials – micro-meteorites.
NASA offers $800 grant awards to community college students conducting research that aligns with NASA’s varied scientific studies. In this case, more than 4,000 tons of micro-meteorites fall towards the earth each year. But only a fraction of them make it to the Earth’s surface.
The OCCC student’s attempt is not the first in Oregon. Haley’s project overview cites a Portland study searching for micro-meteorites on rooftops. However a search for the tiny space travelers proved unsuccessful. So Haley has decided she will look to the churning beach sands of the Oregon Coast in winter to find the tiny little space commuters. In addition to sifting sand with sieves or by hand, she will also use powerful magnets to seek her quarry.
Micro-meteorites are mostly metallic so using magnets will help collect them – along with other small particles that may be volcanic or industrial (man-made) in origin. Those will be sorted by size to help single-out potential micro-meteorites which will then be examined using Oregon State University’s high-powered electron microscope.
Assisting Haley in the study will be her mentor, Bill Lilley, who teaches multi-disciplinary science at OCCC. Matthew Fisher, science faculty at OCCC and the College’s Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium, signed off on the proposal, which Haley has dubbed “Project Stardust: The Search for Micro-meteorites in the Oregon Coastal Environment.”
Haley says she’s inspired by the project which in turn, was inspired by a chance enrollment in Lilley’s course, Environmental Science: A Geologic Perspective. “That class changed my life,” she said. “I’ve changed my entire career path – now that I know I can run and play and dig and do important work. How many people,” she asked, “get to go explore intense and grand concepts like climate change, and really make an impact?”
The name “Project Stardust” is borrowed from Jon Larsen, a renown citizen scientist. As reported in the June 2017 edition of Wired magazine, the idea for the project and the book Larsen wrote on a topic that literally fell into his lap. “The Norwegian jazz musician was dining on his porch one day,” the article begins, “when a rock tumbled out of the sky onto the table. It was shiny, rough and metallic. Baffled, he did what anybody would do – he googled shiny rocks that fall from the sky. He went on to collect more than 40,000 samples of possible micro-meteorites, winding up with a collection of more than 500 confirmed specimens. Larsen’s book, “In Search of Stardust: Amazing Micro-Meteorites and Their Terrestrial Imposters” is one of the references cited in Haley’s project summary.
Haley says any micro-meteorites discovered during her research will be retained by Oregon Coast Community College. After the research, they will be offered to NASA, Oregon State University, Oregon State Geology Department, and the Smithsonian Institute. Her project summary also notes that her research is crucial to establishing evidence of micro-meteorites in Oregon coastal environments and providing the opportunity for a woman on a STEM career path invaluable research experience.
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