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KISS Lecture: Field Exploration and Life Detection Sampling through Planetary Analogue Research (FELDSPAR)

Wednesday, March 29, 2023
5:00pm to 6:00pm
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Speaker: Prof. Amanda Stockton, Georgia Tech

5:00 P.M. Lecture
4:30 P.M. Reception
Lees-Kubota Lecture Hall- Guggenheim Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Seating is limited and is available on a first come, first served basis.


Planetary exploration missions rely on orbiters to collect large-scale data, while landed missions, constrained to footprints of a rover or lander, collect data from individual samples on the mm to cm scale. It is currently not well-constrained how biosignatures, or even habitable zones, are distributed over these spatial scales. FELDSPAR has sought to conduct field studies analogous to Mars sample return from landing site selection, in-field sample selection, remote or stand-off analysis, in situ analysis, and home laboratory (sample return) analysis. This talk will present an overview of the data collected throughout the six years of FELDSPAR studies. Volcanic regions, particularly in Iceland, have similarities to Martian terrains spectroscopically and can have exceptionally low biomass. The four field sites studied include two recent lava fields at Fimmvörðuháls and Holuhraun, a recently deglaciated plain (Mælifellssandur), and an alluvial plain (Dyngjusandur), with samples collected in nested triangular grids every order of magnitude from the 10 cm scale to the 1 km scale. In-field analyses included overhead imagery at 1 m to 200 m elevation, in-field reflectance spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence. ATP content was analyzed in a field lab, and Raman spectroscopy, DNA content, metagenomic sequencing, and qPCR for fungal, bacterial, and archaeal DNA are ongoing in the home lab(s). Lessons learned from the various FELDSPAR rocky terrains will be presented, and their potential applicability, or lack thereof, to icy terrains will be discussed.

Speaker's Biography:

Amanda Stockton is an Associate Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech. Prior to this appointment, she worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Her PhD work was with Richard Mathies at UC Berkeley after she earned a Master's degree in chemistry from Brown University and Bachelor's degrees in aerospace engineering and chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Stockton group's research focuses on the development of ultra-highly sensitive analytical methods and portable equipment using microfabricated capillary electrophoresis with laser-induced fluorescence detection (µCE-LIF) and other microfluidic technologies. Dr. Stockton has extensive experience in the use of µCE-LIF to detect very low levels (sub-pptr) of organic molecules in astrobiologically relevant samples. Her work also includes a significant field-work component, including repeated expeditions to volcanic regions of Iceland as a Martian analogue.

For more information, please contact Antonio Soriano by phone at 6263953966 or by email at [email protected] or visit