Katherine Joy

Early Career Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry research group

When I teach and advise research students I enjoy seeing the enthusiasm and interest that gets sparked from discussing a subject.

Moon dust and meteorites

My research focuses on studying the geological history of the Moon. I study lunar samples that were returned by the Apollo astronauts, and also lunar meteorites that we find here on Earth. I analyse these samples in the laboratory to investigate their chemistry, mineralogy and age.

I also use data that has been collected by satellites orbiting the Moon. Together this information reveals the geological evolution of the Moon and also provides insights to the wider history of the Solar System.

My scientific objective is to investigate the endogenic (magmatic, volcanic) and exogenic (impact bombardment, space environment) history of the Moon using geochemical techniques. My analytical investigations of lunar samples and my understanding of lunar geological processes help me to interpret geochemical remote sensing data from the Moon’s surface.

I enjoy working in a field that is constantly changing and moving forward: new lunar space missions are returning data and stunning images from the Moon. Samples, which were collected 40 years ago by the Apollo astronauts, are analysed in more detail using new innovative techniques.

However, there is still so much we don't understand about the Moon and how it compares to the Earth and other planetary bodies, so there is a lot of work still to do. I get excited that the Moon is a target for human space exploration efforts; there is a possibility that one day my science may help inform and guide people planning to send astronauts back to the lunar surface.

Study the planets

The School is only one of very few in the country to offer a degree specialising in Planetary Science. The course gives students an opportunity to learn about cutting edge planetary research and gain interdisciplinary critical thinking skills to prepare them for life after university. The School also has excellent laboratories, and these facilities enable the staff and students in the department to be involved in cutting edge research.

When I teach and advise research students I enjoy seeing the enthusiasm and interest that gets sparked from discussing a subject. You never know if answering one question will raise 10 more, some of which you may never have thought of asking before.

I use the latest data and images from space missions, like the Curiosity Mars Exploration Rover or the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, to keep my teaching up-to-date so students learn about the current planetary science discoveries and theories of Solar System history.

I want students to enjoy their learning experience - that's my measure of success. How much have I inspired them to ask questions and seek answers in their life after university?

An Antarctic adventure

I have been really lucky in my career so far; I have had many good experiences and I work with good people. Last year I was asked to join the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) programme, which gave me the opportunity to travel to Antarctica. I visited the Transantarctic mountains where our team of eight people searched for meteorites. It was an amazing experience – in the six weeks we lived on the ice we collected over 300 meteorites that are now available for scientists all over the world to study. Many of these meteorites originated from the asteroid belt, and this year I am going back to Antarctica to search for more meteorites – hopefully some of these may have come from Mars or the Moon!

I was also lucky enough to work for two years at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston Texas, alongside scientists who were some of the first to study Moon rocks returned by the Apollo astronauts. Being located at JSC was also brilliant fun – I got to visit mission control during the last three space shuttle missions, sit in some of the space shuttle astronaut training facilities and see the curation facilities where meteorites, Apollo Moon rocks and comet samples are stored. A dream come true for a space enthusiast like me!

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