Erin Gibbons is an MSc student at McGill University (Canada) studying Earth and planetary science under the supervision of Dr. Kim Berlo and Dr. Richard Léveillé.
She is currently living her dream of working on a Mars exploration mission as a student science collaborator with NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.
Erin’s research interests concern tracing the physical and chemical evolution of water in the solar system through the analysis of sedimentary rocks. Due to their ubiquity and their geochemical sensitivity to formation environment, iron-, magnesium-, and aluminum-bearing clay minerals will be the focus of her efforts to understand the aqueous history of Earth and other terrestrial planets.
However, because no planetary exploration missions have returned extraterrestrial rock samples, Erin will work to create a suite of synthetic clay minerals that model the geochemistry of early Earth and other planets. She will conduct a thorough characterization of the synthetic products using cutting-edge geoanalytical instrumentation and molecular-scale techniques to enhance our understanding of the processes leading to clay mineral formation and alteration.
The primary goal of the project is to develop spectral standards that allow for accurate and nuanced remote sensing–based identification of clay minerals. The results of this work will be directly and immediately relevant to the exploration of ancient sedimentary rocks on Earth as well as so the ongoing exploration of the Martian surface and the search for extraterrestrial habitable environments.