President Obama today named 96 researchers, including University of New Mexico Institute of Meteoritics Sr. Research Scientist Francis McCubbin, as recipients of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. The federal researchers will receive their awards in a ceremony later this month in Washington.
"Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people." President Obama said. "The impressive accomplishments of today's awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead."
"I am extremely honored to be among the early career scientists selected to receive the PECASE award this year, and I am very thankful for the continued support of NASA," said McCubbin. "This award symbolizes both an acknowledgement and validation of my research to this point, but being an early career award, it also symbolizes a certain motivation to continue moving forward with new discoveries."
McCubbin was one of six National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recipients who were nominated by the agency's Science Mission Directorate, Office of the Chief Engineer and Office of the Chief Technologist. "These talented individuals have already made significant contributions to the agency's mission at this early stage in their careers," said NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati. "We look forward to celebrating their continued success for many years to come."
He was also one of two researchers with connections at UNM, including Justin Hagerty, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, named as a recipient of the PECASE.
McCubbin was cited for studies of the geochemical role of water and other volatiles in extraterrestrial materials from the inner solar system. His research is focused on determining the abundances and roles of volatiles including water, fluorine, chlorine, sulfur and carbon in magmatic systems within terrestrial planetary bodies, including Earth, Moon, Mars, and asteroids.
"For years, NASA has had a "follow the water" strategy for planetary science and exploration because water is a key ingredient for life as we currently know it," explained McCubbin. "In order to follow the water, we first must figure out how to find it, and that is the primary underlying basis for the research I have conducted thus far in my career."
McCubbin started his independent research career as a postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington where all the available literature indicated that the interiors of the terrestrial planets, with the exception of Earth, are extremely dry places. The driest of these bodies was believed to be the Moon, and it became the focal point of his first investigation.
"Many of the previous studies looked at bulk samples, but we took a more focused approach, looking at tiny mineral grains that host hydroxyl in their crystalline structure," said McCubbin. "Through this approach, we have shown that the Moon hosts a volume of water within its crystalline interior that is equal in volume to the Great Lakes of North America. This volume of water is five orders of magnitude greater than previous estimates of the bulk water content of the Moon, and several subsequent studies by other laboratories have confirmed our findings."
The study sparked a complete reassessment of the water contents of terrestrial bodies in our solar system, and since McCubbin and his research group have shown that Mars has at least as much water within its interior as the Earth, and even large asteroids have water stored within their interior.
"If we try and "follow the water", we now find that it is nearly every place we look," said McCubbin, who earned his Ph.D. in Geosciences from Stony Brook University (2009) and a B.S. in Geology from Towson University (2004). "Consequently, the Solar System has become a much more exciting target for astrobiology than it was only five years ago, and NASA's continued support for planetary science and exploration will undoubtedly lead to some very important discoveries over the coming decades."
The Presidential early career awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation's goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy.
The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.
The recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veteran Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America's preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.
For a related story on McCubbin's research, visit: Researchers Find Martian Carbon Not Biological in Origin.
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