Studying Life on Mars – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Studying Life on Mars

Rosina Lombardi ’01, a chemistry alumna, received a prestigious NASA graduate fellowship to study life on Mars. Lombardi is pursuing the Ph.D. in chemistry/biophysics at Syracuse University and was recently notified that she has received a NASA pre-doctoral fellowship based on a proposal that she authored titled “Detection of Chirality in Amino Acids Using Fourier Transform Vibrational Circular Dichroism.” Lombardi did undergraduate research in chemistry Professor Carol Parish’s lab during her senior year at Hobart and William Smith. She looked at the flexibility of chiral shift reagents.

In the introduction to Lombardi’s grant proposal she explains her project. “The search for life on Mars has led many researchers involved in NASA’s Martian exploration to focus on the development and testing of technology that can detect and describe indicators of life. Amino acids, which serve as the basic building blocks of life, can be used as biomarkers, if detected, for proof of the existence of life on Mars as well as other solar system bodies. For the purpose of developing a technique that can elucidate the life issue through detection of amino acids, a collaboration, between Dr. Laurence Nafie at Syracuse University and Dr. Soon Sam Kim at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, has been established to test the feasibility of building a miniature Fourier transform infrared vibrational circular dichroism (FT-IR VCD) spectrometer that will be included in a Mars Exploration Rover (MER) to be launched in 2009. This collaboration has been funded by NASA with an Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development (ASTID) grant (NRA 01-OSS-01 ASTID). The research that I am proposing will benefit this ongoing NASA project in the development of sampling techniques that will increase the sensitivity of infrared vibrational circular dichroism (VCD) and, therefore, enhance signal intensities in the measured spectra of amino acids. Working closely with my faculty advisor, Dr. Nafie, I plan to develop VCD for the determination of chirality in amino acids as a signature of life. The bulk of my work will focus on developing methods for the enhancement of VCD signal intensities for solid-phase samples.”