Research

 

At the Laboratory for Space Sciences at Washington University we encourage scientists to work together on research problems that span or transcend traditional departmental lines. Space sciences, broadly defined as the study of the universe and our relationship to it, is simply too vast an area to be the province of a single discipline. Understanding the formation of the solar system is equally the task of the chemist who measures isotope effects in meteorites, the astronomer who observes interstellar dust, and the theoretical physicist who studies supernova explosions. Members of our group thus belong to one of the basic, traditional science departments, yet overlap strongly in their research work.

Presolar grainsPresolar_Grain_Research.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

One of the primary focuses of our research has been the characterization of individual grains of silicon carbide, graphite, oxides, and silicates whose unusual isotopic properties show that they must have formed around other stars prior to incorporation into the pre-solar nebula (circumstellar grains).

Interplanetary Dust ParticlesInterplanetary_Dust_Particles.htmlshapeimage_5_link_0

Interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) are among the most primitive materials in the solar system. Large enrichments of deuterium relative to hydrogen have been found in interplanetary dust particles and are thought to be the result of chemical reactions in cold molecular clouds.

Stardust to Wild 2Stardust.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0

In January 2006, the Stardust spacecraft returned to Earth with dust particles collected from the  comet 81P/Wild 2.  We are studying these samples, which are found in both the aerogel tiles and the surrounding Al foils.  We are also investigating samples of contemporary interstellar dust that was collected on a second “back-side” collector during the spacecraft's journey to Wild 2.

Meteorite GeochemistryMeteorite_Geochemistry.htmlshapeimage_9_link_0

Our research includes the in-situ study of trace elemental and isotopic compositions of meteorites and lunar samples in order to better understand their formation and to gain insights into the chemical nature of their parent materials. Trace elements, and particularly the rare-earth elements (REE), are sensitive indicators of igneous differentiation processes, as they typically partition strongly into either the liquid or crystal phase of a magma system.

Noble Gas ResearchNoble_Gas_Research.htmlshapeimage_12_link_0

This work centers on the history and development of the solar system as deciphered by noble gas mass spectrometry. Observations of isotopic effects in the rare gases due to various nuclear reactions, presolar components, and decay of extinct radionuclides impose constraints upon the origin of the elements and upon the early history of the solar system.

Gravity and Earth Exploration (GEE) Laboratory

Professor Cowsik's research group studies a large variety of topics in fundamental physics. The group is particularly interested in experimental tests of new physics beyond the Standard Model of Particle Physics. These tests include searches for new dimensions on small scales, tests of Einstein's Equivalence Principle, and investigations of the quantum vacuum. Professor Cowsik has a long history of interest in dark matter and that continues today with the group's theoretical and experimental endeavors to understand these mysterious particles. In addition, in recent years the group has developed a series of rotational seismometers which will be used to make pioneering measurements in the field of geophysics.