IMCA Insights March 2011
The Brian Mason Award 2010
by Anne Black & Aidan Ross

Every year, during the Annual Meeting, the Meteoritical Society chooses the winners of several different Awards, one of them being the Brian Mason Award, it rewards the best abstract submitted by a student to the Meteoritical Society's Annual Meeting. It is of special interest to us because this award is sponsored by the International Meteorite Collectors Association and Meteorite Magazine. And financed by the IMCA. Last year's meeting was in New York, from July 26 to July 30, and the winner was Aidan Ross. As part of the deal the winner was asked to tell us a bit about her, and here is her answer. One thing I particularly noticed is that she only "discovered" meteorites 5 years ago, and she is already working on her Doctorate. Obviously she is a quick learner!

Anne M. Black
President of IMCA

Aidan Ross

My name is Aidan Ross, and I was the winner of the 2010 Brian Mason award at the Meteoritical Society Meeting held in July in New York. I'm 25 and a PhD student studying at University College London joint with the Natural History Museum in London. I first became interested in meteorites during my second year at university (so only five years ago). I have always been obsessed with space, dragging my parents to science museums and planetariums whenever possible. I was delighted when I won a telescope in a raffle and was inspired to study astronomy at university. This ambition was further developed when I attended the Research Science Institute (RSI) the summer before my final year of high school. RSI is a summer school held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology giving high school students a chance to experience university research. I spent the summer studying and modeling pressure-energy density relationships in neutron stars. I then did my undergraduate degree at Cambridge University, where unlike most UK institutions you can study a range of sciences. Geology really interested me so I took it as an option. One of the classes I took was called "In the beginning..." and it was there that I got hooked on meteorites. Looking through a microscope at objects that are the left over builders, rubble from the solar system was awe inspiring. From then on it was clear what I wanted to study.

For my PhD I'm studying ureilites, which are thought to represent the mantle of an asteroid. They are mostly composed of coarse grains of olivine and pyroxene (making beautiful thin sections!), though they also contain diamond (making them a nightmare to cut and polish!). Part of my PhD is focused on studying the origin of the diamond in ureilites, and it was this research that I presented at MetSoc for which I won the Brian Mason Award. I studied diamond in a sample of the new and exciting ureilite Almahata Sitta and compared it with other ureilites from the Natural History Museum (UK) and NASA Antarctic meteorite collections. I used raman spectroscopy and found that the diamond is distinct from that in other ureilites and may represent a rare polymorph of diamond called lonsdaleite. The work was conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Carnegie Institution of Washington and NASA and is currently in press at the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Almahata Sitta is an extremely special meteorite. It was the first sample to be tracked as an asteroid (2008TC3) and while mostly ureilitic, also includes multiple associated chondritic samples giving the impression that a large amount of mixing of different materials occurred in the accretion of this rubble pile asteroid. For more about Almahata Sitta I would highly recommend reading the Planetary Science Research Discoveries page. I have been very lucky to be able to obtain samples of Almahata Sitta through collaboration with NASA and the University of Khartoum in Sudan who organized the sample collection expeditions. The samples have attracted a lot of attention with dedicated sessions at the 2010 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference and Meteoritical Society Meeting with Meteoritics and Planetary Science recently publishing a special issue focusing on them. I am a co-author on one of these papers which presented results of mineral thermometry and hence a history of Almahata Sitta and the ureilite parent body.

Most recently I have been studying the metals in ureilites (including Almahata Sitta) in collaboration with scientists at the NASA Johnson Space Center. In November/December I was a visiting researcher there using the new state-of-the-art laser-ablation mass spectrometry facility. Laser ablation is quite a nerve racking technique as once you've destroyed the grain you are trying to analyze, there is no way of getting it back. The results are preliminary but it seems like Almahata Sitta still has plenty more clues to give us about ureilite evolution.

I've got about a year left of my PhD now and things aren't slowing down at all. I think that things are starting to get even more exciting for the study of asteroids with the recent return of samples from Itokawa by the Japanese Hayabusa mission and the arrival of the NASA Dawn mission scheduled for this summer. I've got plans for more analyses and ideas for more studies and I'm enjoying all of it. At the same time I'm thinking about the future and hoping that I'll be able to continue on in planetary science and meteorite research.

Aidan Ross

This article has been edited by Anne Black and Norbert Classen

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