Meeting Information

Analysis of Organics in Solar System Samples

January 15, 2020
American Center for Physics
College Park, MD

Date: January 15, 2020 
Speaker: Jamie Elsila Cook, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Topic: Analysis of Organics in Solar System Samples
Time and Location: 1:00 p.m., at the American Center for Physics (, 1 Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD — off River Rd., between Kenilworth Ave. and Paint Branch Parkway. 

Abstract: This talk will discuss how organic compounds, especially amino acids, are analyzed in extraterrestrial materials, and how these analyses contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth. The analysis of the organic content of Solar System materials, including meteorites and returned samples, yields important information about early solar system chemistry, as well as on the potential distribution of the ingredients necessary for life. Meteorite collections, including the thousands of meteorites collected through systematic Antarctic programs, provide samples from diverse parent bodies. Returned samples such as lunar samples and the asteroidal samples to be returned by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx and JAXA’s Hayabusa2 missions represent materials from known parent bodies with the benefits of context and minimal contamination.

A wide range of organic compounds have been identified in these materials through targeted analytical methods. Such compounds include soluble organics such as amino acids, carboxylic acids, aldehydes, ketones, sugars, nucleobases, hydrocarbons, and more, as well as insoluble macromolecular material. Amino acids are of particular interest to astrobiology because of the role they play in life on Earth.

Biography: Jamie Elsila Cook is an astrochemist in the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She is a member of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and of the science team for the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission. She received her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2004 from Stanford University and was a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at NASA Ames Research Center before moving to NASA Goddard. Her research emphasis is on abiotic extraterrestrial organic chemistry, particularly the abundances, distributions, and stable isotopic
signatures of extraterrestrial organic compounds, including amino acids in carbonaceous chondrites, lunar samples, and cometary material returned by the Stardust mission.