Research Profile: Breaking Down Meteorites

By Phyllis Chiang

Juliette Strasser, FCRH’ 17, is working with Dr. Jon Friedrich in the Chemistry Department to study meteorites. Meteorites can tell us a lot about the universe, their melt history, and what they have undergone in the solar system by looking at their crusts and their chondrule shapes and interactions.

In general, Strasser and Friedrich focus on a few different aspects of a specific type of basic meteorites, called ordinary chondrites. These chondrites have properties that differentiate them from other types of meteorites, but the most important is a feature called a “chondrule”. Chondrules are small spherical globs of minerals. They load the pictures of meteorites in slices by using a technology called tomography into a computer program that allows them to outline the chondrules and trace their progress and shape throughout the chondrite. They perform geochemical analysis of the meteorites, and then organize  the meteorites into a category within the more general label of “chondrite”.

Currently, Strasser is focusing on developing an alkali digestion method for the chondrites that uses sodium hydroxide instead of hydrofluoric acid. She is interested in seeing whether the Si percentage in the meteorites can be used as another form of classification.

Strasser was interested in working on this project with Dr. Jon Friedrich because she enjoyed his class and wanted to work more with him. She is also interested in applied analytical chemistry. She enjoys doing calculations and applying them to real-life situations in lab, rather than merely theoretical research. She thinks that meteorites are interesting to study because they undergo very little modification after their formation in space, and therefore, studying their compositions gives information about the composition of the universe at the time of their formations.

The most difficult obstacle for Strasser during her research progress is that she is the only student working on this project. While Dr. Friedrich is always available and helpful, she does not have other teammates to troubleshoot the problems together. It can get frustrating when she encounters a problem, especially when Dr. Friedrich is busy with his own work. It is really challenging for her to solve a problem herself in the lab when she is alone.

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