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What can NASA’s CheMin x-ray instrument tell us about life on Mars?

Mars_SouthernFloor_GaleCraterThe CheMin instrument (short for “Chemistry and Mineralogy”) is one of two “laboratory quality” instruments on board the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity that is presently exploring Gale crater on Mars. CheMin is an X-ray diffractometer that has for the first time returned definitive and fully quantitative mineral identifications of Mars soil and drilled rock. Using the MSL sampling system, the CheMin instrument performs quantitative mineralogical analyses. Mineralogy is important to the goals of the MSL mission because minerals are thermodynamic phases, formed or altered under specific (and known) conditions of temperature, pressure and composition. Dr. Blake will describe CheMin’s 23-year development from an idea to a spacecraft qualified instrument, and share some of the revelations that Curiosity has made since its entry, descent, and landing on Aug. 6, 2012. This will include the discovery and characterization of the first ancient habitable environment on Mars. Lastly, Dr. Blake will discuss “spinoffs” of CheMin and other X-ray instruments from his lab, and possible applications in the commercial sector.

About the Presenter

Mars_SandDunesDavid Blake, PhD has over thirty years of experience in the fields of geology, mineralogy, and biological sciences. Since joining NASA Ames in 1989 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Exobiology Branch, he has studied astrophysical ices, interplanetary dust, Mars meteorites, lunar soils, stratospheric soot, and the geology and mineralogy of ancient habitable environments on Mars. During the last 20 years, Dr. Blake conceived and developed the CheMin x-ray instrument. David is the Principal Investigator of the CheMin instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, and is a member of the Principal Science Group that directs the activities of Curiosity on Mars.

In 1998, David received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement medal for his work on astrophysical ices and the origin of biogenic compounds. In 2010 and 2013, he received the Government Invention of the Year awards for technology developments leading to the miniaturization of x-ray diffraction instruments. Also in 2013, David received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal for his 22-year development of the CheMin instrument which resulted in the first quantitative mineralogy of the Mars surface and discovery of the first habitable environment on Mars. David holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Geology and Mineralogy from the University of Michigan.

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