Taking care of meteorites

Posted: January 17, 2012 - 17:16 , by royal

Brendt C. Hyde, Mineralogy Technician will be presenting at the upcoming  ROM Research Colloquium – join us on February 3 at 4:30pm in the Signy & Cléophée Eaton Theatre to hear more about The Study of Meteorites – Science versus Conservation.

What are you going to talk about at the colloquium this year?

I am going to discuss how the mineralogy department at the ROM uses non-destructive analytical techniques to study meteorites in its collection.  Meteorites are rare, expensive and contain a wealth of information about our solar system.  Working with these rocks, especially in a museum setting, requires scientists to weigh the benefits of studying these objects versus conserving them.  Meteorites are generally studied using cut sections.  The cutting is destructive and only exposes a small area.  We have started using techniques including medical micro-CT imaging and micro-Raman spectroscopy that are non-destructive.  Don’t worry I will explain these techniques as painlessly as possible in my talk.  Micro-CT can be used to get a 3D view of a meteorite’s interior – think of this as a 3D X-ray.  Using a micro-Raman spectrometer, recently acquired by the mineralogy department at the ROM, can give a view of the minerals present – think of this as using a laser to scan a mineral for its “fingerprint”.  This can be done on large and/or fragile samples.

rendered diagram showing cross-section of a meteorite

Micro-CT view of the interior of meteorite NWA 2219. A meteor thought to be from the asteroid Vesta. (length ~ 6 cm). Image credit Brendt C. Hyde, David Holdsworth and Joseph Umoh.

How did you first become interested in this topic?

I have always been interested in space, planets and meteorites.  I received degrees in planetary science and geology and have spent most of my research career studying minerals found on the planet Mars.  When I arrived at the ROM two years ago, studying meteorites seemed like a natural and exciting next step.  I have been a collector of things since grade school and I have always had a compulsion to keep my collections as pristine as possible.  I guess this has extended into my career.  I strive to get as much as I can from the ROM’s collection with doing the minimal amount of damage possible.  Some destruction is inevitably required for interesting samples, but this talk will show that a lot can be gained from non-destructive work.

What part of your research do you enjoy the most?

I really enjoy using the new analytical equipment in mineralogy to analyze meteorites in the collection.  Shooting lasers and X-rays at rocks from space… I can’t imagine a job more fun than that!

Do you have a favourite artifact or specimen?

I don’t think I have a single favorite specimen, but all of the martian meteorites are definitely near the top of my list.

meterorite from Mars

NWA 3171 a meteorite from Mars! (length ~ 8 cm). Photo credit: Brian Boyle.

Want to learn more? The ROM Research Colloquium is a forum for ROM Researchers to present on their latest research and discoveries. This full day of consecutive 15-minute presentations is free and open to the public (Museum admission not included).