Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dream big, young scientists

Looking back through old journals for something entirely different, I found the following research proposal that I wrote in Oct-Nov of 1996, shortly before I got awarded my PhD scholarship. It was a pretty good scholarship I got, so I'm repeating this in case anyone else wants to aim high in the planetary science field: 

Knowing the chemical and isotopic composition of the whole Earth would help constrain the mechanics, timing, and efficiency of differentiation and core formation, as well as give valuable information on the partitioning of siderophile elements into the core. Unfortunately, directly sampling the core is impossible using current technology. Many substitutes of this have been explored, including the analysis of the undifferentiated chondrites and the study of iron-nickel meteorites thought to be pieces of a demolished differentiated planetary body. 

Sadly, oxygen and other isotopes show that these objects formed in a region of the solar nebula different to the Earth, and thus their compositions cannot be directly compared to that of the Earth-Moon system without extrapolation. Since the Moon dies not include a substantial iron core, any determination of the whole Earth, or whole Earth-Moon system composition must include the Earth. 

Our proposal is to use Whole Earth Laser Ablation (WELA) ICP-MS to determine the chemical and isotopic composition of the entire planet. Building the mass spectrometer for this will be an easy task, as the Earth is already located in an extremely good vacuum. We are merely asking for enough funding to purchase a laser powerful enough to ablate the planet, so that the resulting plasma can be sampled by our mass spectrometer. We believe that based on its excellent performance in the Alderaan System, the purchase of a Death Star would allow us to use its primary weapon as our Earth-ablating instrument. We ask that you fund the acquisition of this tool, as we believe it will fundamentally alter the way we view our planet.