canada africa partner reservation The where, why and how of water in space – Northern Arizona University

The where, why and how of water in space – Northern Arizona University


Where does water come from?

There is an image for this on Earth: a colorful image of the water cycle, including clouds and rain, rivers and groundwater.

In space it’s a little more complicated.

Laura Lee, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Astronomy and Planetary Science, conducts research to map water in the solar system. Her goal is to get closer to answering three crucial questions: which other celestial bodies such as asteroids have water, how water is transported and distributed throughout the solar system, and how water can be used and acquired in future missions.

Based on the strength of this research, Lee was selected for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), a prestigious national program that provides graduate students with funding to conduct their own groundbreaking research. She is one of three NAU students selected for the GRFP in 2024; search their profiles The NAU Review at a later time.

As a woman of color in a STEM field, she has experienced how minority inclusivity transforms educational opportunities—for her and for others in the lab, field, and classroom. For Lee, innovation is not enough; she wants to make sure she opens doors for others too.

“As an Asian woman in STEM and the daughter of an immigrant, I have learned the importance of education and taking advantage of every opportunity presented to me,” she said. “My focus now and in my future career is on creating accessible education programs that inspire diverse perspectives for innovation and infrastructure improvements in space exploration and contribute to the development of a diverse and competitive STEM workforce.”

Colleague Professor Christopher Edwardswho is Lee’s advisor and co-investigator on many of the international projects on which her research is based, said Lee has been a driver of new research and collaborative education at NAU since day one.

“Her dedication to the project and its implementation, helping to support a class and build a space instrument is truly impressive,” Edwards said. “I can’t say enough good things about Laura’s collegiality, breadth of interests and dedication to getting to the bottom of very challenging and pressing problems in science.”

What you need to know about Lee’s research

She wants to discover where water is located in space and how it moves in space. That project is done in four different ways:

  1. Using the Lowell Discovery Telescope to lead work characterizing several asteroids for a future mission to the asteroid belt.
  2. Help develop VISIONS, a visible and infrared camera that can be used for a variety of planetary missions with the potential to identify the presence of water on other celestial bodies.
  3. Joining Lunar Trailblazer’s efforts in studying areas of interest for water on the moon.
  4. Experimenting with fungi and crop growth in alien soil to understand the characteristics of water retention and the possibilities of alien agriculture.

The work requires Lee to synthesize data from different sources, collaborate with researchers from different countries, as well as those in Flagstaff and other student researchers, and piece together a big picture from many small pieces of data. Her research will provide valuable insights into hydrated regions on the moon and other celestial bodies and will inform future missions studying the moon, asteroids and more. She helps demystify the universe.

“Laura’s work will help us understand the context and distribution of water, a critically important molecule,” said Edwards. “The main contributions of this work to the general scientific literature are how water is distributed across the solar system, where it is located on the body of interest, and how we can then better understand its potential as a resource.”

How to be successful: write grants and achieve your goals

To persevere. Lee completed her bachelor’s degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in the spring of 2020. She was not allowed to walk until graduation. She completed the semester at home. She couldn’t find a job in her field, so she started working as an arcade technician at a bowling alley. It’s not the STEM job most people think of, but Lee’s technical acumen and understanding of complex hardware and software expanded into that role, and it gave her real hands-on experience. She then took a night job as a physics laboratory assistant, preparing and maintaining equipment and supervising a series of science laboratories.

Those weren’t her dream jobs either, but they helped her get to the place she needed to be to prepare the kind of graduate school application that would get noticed. And NAU noticed her. Edwards was so eager to bring Lee on board that he gave her an email address and affiliate status months before she arrived so she could start working.

Find opportunities to lead and grow. While in college, Lee learned coding and data processing, was a teacher’s assistant at ERAU’s observatory, and helped upgrade their meteor camera system. She interned with NASA’s education programs at Space Center Houston, co-authored a research paper, and provided community service including Girls Rock-It Day, a STEM-based learning experience for high school girls.

In high school, her work has spanned from developing the VISIONS camera system, including working in a cleanroom and troubleshooting, she has presented at numerous conferences and space meetings, she has mentored students and written lesson plans and community outreach activities. as soon as that system starts. send data back to Earth. It’s all helped her get to this point in her career and determine where she wants to go.

Do your research. The Department of Astronomy and Planetary Science offers a Writing a Fellowship Proposal course. The class members reviewed successful applications, including reviewer feedback, from previous students, reviewed each other’s work, received advice from professors, and wrote and revised their applications. For the GRFP, the personal statement is almost as important as the research statement, so knowing best practices and having peer reviewers can turn a good statement into a great statement.