Kathleen Vander Kaaden, a University of New Mexico graduate student at the Institute of Meteoritics in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, has been awarded the NASA Earth and Space Science (NESSF) Graduate Student Fellowship award for the 2015-16 academic year for research work in the area of Planetary Science.

Only 29 were selected for the much sought-after fellowship award from NASA from a total of 150 applications in the category of Planetary Science. “The competition was intense, so being selected is a real mark of distinction,” said a NASA NESSF press release.

“Receiving the NASA NESSF Graduate Student Fellowship is a great opportunity and will be extremely beneficial for me as I enter the final year of my Ph.D.,” said Vander Kaaden. “I will be using the award from this fellowship to continue my experimental exploration into the thermal and magmatic evolution of Mercury.”

Vander Kaaden’s research involves conducting high pressure and high temperature experiments on mercurian compositions collected by the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft that recently completed its planned decent into the surface of the planet.

Her dissertation is currently titled "experimental investigation into the thermal and magmatic evolution of Mercury."

“These experiments have focused on the density of Mercurian melts, the composition of possible mantle and surface minerals, as well as the possible light elements (C, Si, S) that may be in the core of the planet,” Vander Kaaden said.

The NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship Program, or NESSF, is to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines needed to achieve NASA's scientific goals. Awards resulting from the competitive selection will be training grants to the respective universities, with the advisor serving as the principal investigator.

The fellowship program supports continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines required to achieve NASA’s scientific goals.

The maximum amount of a NESSF award is $30,000 per year with the possibility of two years worth of renewal if recipients remain a students.