Sep 20 2022

1.  Can you tell us about yourself, your job, and your role as Lecturer in Earth Sciences?

Other than a mother of two (yes that’s a job), I am a lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway University of London. I study how life’s simple building blocks are turned into increasingly complex molecules that ultimately yield life. It is difficult to refine the scope of my research into a single discipline, so I describe myself as a meteoriticist, planetary scientist, astrobiologist, cosmochemist, depending on the occasion. As my research involves the study of extraterrestrial organic matter, most of my research time is spent on being a germophobe - I am very wary of keeping my lab space spotless, and being extremely critical at identifying extraterrestrial matter from terrestrial contamination. I also study tiny space dust and extraterrestrial samples returned to Earth by space missions. Here at Royal Holloway School of Life Sciences and the Environment, I am also the Deputy Director of Equality and Diversity, and I hope that my passion in this topic can bring changes and enhancements at Royal Holloway to make it an inclusive place to work and to study, in particular to support colleagues on their endeavour through maternity and pregnancy.

2.  You are currently leading on the UK’s research proposal to study asteroidal water and organics by examining samples from the Ryugu asteroid, alongside partners from the University of Kent, the Natural History Museum London, NASA, and Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan. Could you tell us more about this research proposal?

Our selected proposal, titled “Water and organics of Ryugu”, aims at studying the organic and volatile contents of samples returned by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Hayabusa2 mission. The Hayabusa2 mission of JAXA went visiting a C-type asteroid – Ryugu – and collected valuable material directly from asteroid Ryugu and bring the samples back to Earth for detailed analysis. C-type asteroids are thought to be the counterparts of carbonaceous chondrites that are enriched in water and organics. Prior to Hayabusa2, sample return missions have only returned materials to Earth from a small number of solar system bodies, which include materials from remnant of planetesimals–comet (by Stardust) and asteroid (by Hayabusa). Therefore, Hayabusa2 provides the first opportunity and possibly the least contaminated samples of a carbon-rich asteroid which can be studied by state-of-the-art techniques to constrain the origin and evolution of the building blocks of life.

3.  Your proposal is one of 40 research proposals chosen by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – what does this mean to you?

Upon the return of the Hayabusa2 sample capsule to Earth, I have been involved in the preliminary examination of the Hayabusa2 samples in the previous year working with Stone Team PI Prof. Tomoki Nakamura and a large team of international experts.  Our initial examination has now completed, and it is exciting that we can then focus our analysis on two large (~3 mm DIA) Hayabusa2 samples and continue to explore the mysteries about asteroid Ryugu. The proposal selection process involved a competitive peer review process, and it was gratifying to learn that our proposal has been recognised by other researchers in the field to receive valuable Ryugu samples in the very first announcement of opportunity. In this proposal, I will lead a team of scientists from the UK as well as overseas from US and Japan, and each of them is a leading expert in using a specific analytical instrument. I am very excited for this opportunity to collaborate with these experts, and we will utilise the state-of-the-art techniques offered in the UK to extract as much information as we can from the allocated Hayabusa2 samples.

4.  What are your favourite subjects to lecture on?

My favourite subjects to lecture on are definitely the subjects related to my own research – planetary science – as I can showcase my enthusiasm in my teaching. At Royal Holloway University of London, we offer a module “Introduction to Planetary Geology and Geophysics” where we introduce student to planetary science, including topics related to the structure of the solar system, the nature and evolution of planetary bodies and the interpretation of surface features. The module offers an exploration of the Solar System, its physical and chemical characteristics, origin, and evolution. We explore the Earth-Moon system, terrestrial planets and outer giants, planetary satellites, comets and meteorites, which create a holistic and critical appraisal of planetary evolution.

5.  What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the Department of Earth Sciences?

I enjoy the most about the opportunities to work alongside my fellow colleagues and students here at the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway.  We have a small department, so we know each other really well – it is like a small family who shares the same love for learning about the Earth and how studying the Earth helps us understand the evolution of our own solar system, and vice versa.  It is fantastic especially to talk to students about my research – and if I can, I will try to involve them in part of my research work. 

6.  How do you like to spend your free time?

Other than playing with my children (and yes that’s a hobby too), I enjoy exploring different board games with friends and family. I also like watching anime, and I learned many interesting Japanese words from that. And Lego, I bought Lego for my kids so I can play.