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Project Stardust

Analysis of Comet Particles

Photo by George Joch, courtesy Argonne National Lab
Dr. George Flynn holds a sample from Project Stardust.

Photo of Ilona working at Brookhaven Lab
Physics Student Ilona at Brookhaven Lab

Dr. George Flynn is currently the team leader of the Preliminary Examination Team doing Chemical Analysis for NASA’s Project Stardust.

Project Stardust resulted in the capture and return to earth of comet particles. These particles could be more than 4 billion years old. Dr. George Flynn’s research involves the chemical analysis of these particles, which will hopefully provide clues to the origin of the earth and other planets of the Solar System.

Dr. Flynn has a long history of studying the chemistry of meteorite and cosmic dust samples (as a graduate student he helped analyze some of the first samples brought back from the Moon), and is considered a world-class expert in this field. He often travels to Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island to conduct research, and takes students along to help him in his research (that’s Ilona at Brookhaven Lab below left).

Learn more about Dr. Flynn’s participation in Project Stardust.

Student Research

Dr. Ken Podolalk, Tobey Betthauser, and Randi Bassik
Dr. Ken Podolalk, with undergraduate students Tobey Betthauser, and Randi Bassik are working on the Cary OLIS-14 Spectrophotometer. Thin film optical absorption is being recorded to study light’s interaction with the plasmon resonance in the films grown at our physics labs. Plasmons are naturally occurring collective vibratings in atoms. Finding ideal films for this purpose would produce faster, more efficient computers since light is the mechanism to read/write instead of electrical current. Computers would also use less energy since the electrons that store information would only need to be altered and not electrically moved.
George Marshall
George Marshall, an undergraduate physics major, standing beside his research poster on magnesium nanoblades with his advisor Dr. Ken Podolak. George found the optimal wavelength and angle at which light should interact with the nanoblades to potentially enhance hydrogen energy storage devices. Nanoblades, smaller than the width of your hair, have a much larger surface area than a film, and therefore could potentially be a solution to the problem of alternative energy storage methods. This technology could be the mechanism to store/release energy in a hydrogen fueled car.
Matt McCaffery
Matt McCaffery presented a poster on the work he did with Dr. Mike Walters. Matthew worked on gold plating of silicon wafers in electrochemical baths. The work showed how to control gold deposition in making the wires on microchips.
Dr. Mike Walters
Dr. Mike Walters works on the design of small robots to go places and do things hat people can’t do. Using our new 3D printer, students can work with Mike on the design and testing of these small robots.
Randi Basik and Dr. Walters discuss the optical properties of ballistic gelatin.
Dr. Glenn Myer, Kendra Erts and Mathieu Poulin

Dr. Glenn Myer is mentoring Kendra Erts and Mathieu Poulin as they research the frictional properties of ice.

It was originally thought that ice was slippery because pressure caused the surface layer to melt. So far, Kendra and Mathieu they have determined that the pressure required is far too great to explain why ice is slippery under low-pressure conditions. By pulling a cart of variable weight on blades of variable width, their goal is to determine how much of ice’s slipperiness is due to pressure melting and how much may be attributed to other proposed factors, such as improper hydrogen bonding on the surface of the ice.

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