Go to main content

UAB researcher Marina Martínez to analyse lunar samples brought back by Artemis III

06 Sep 2023
Share via WhatsApp Share via e-mail

Marina Martínez, lecturer in the Department of Geology, will be the first person from Spain to form part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Resarch Virtual Institute (SSERVI).

Marina Martínez

Marina Martínez, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geology of the UAB, was selected to form part of the NASA team in charge of analysing the lunar samples gathered by the Artemis III mission at the Solar System Exploration Resarch Virtual Institute (SSERVI). The UAB geologist thus is the first researcher from Spain to be selected by NASA to form part of this research institute.

Geologist Marina Martínez, holder of a Margarita Salas fellowship under which she conducts her postdoctoral research at the UAB Department of Geology, was chosen to form part of the NASA’s Solar System Exploration Resarch Virtual Institute (SSERVI) and participate in the CASA Moon (Center for Advanced Sample Analysis of Astromaterials from the Moon and Beyond) project. This project aims to decypher the origin, evolution and history of the moon’s crust and mantle based on the analysis of samples the Artemis III mission will bring back to Earth at the end of 2025, on the first crewed mission to the Moon since the Apollo programme.

One year ago, Marina Martínez formed part of the research project proposal CASA Moon led by the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she presented her PhD thesis. She is currently conducting research at the Crystallography and Mineralogy Group of the UAB Department of Geology, directed by Professor Mercè Corbella.

Examining the Moon’s formation processes based on volatile-rich minerals

The CASA Moon project aims to analyse the fundamental processes behind the Moon’s formation and other planetary processes (e.g., planetary differentiation), determine more precisely the origin and evolution of the lunar crust (e.g., based on the solidification of the lunar magma ocean and subsequent modification due to impacts), and understand the magmatic processes occuring in the Moon’s interior. It additionally intends to design strategies for the exploration of endogenous reserves of volatile elements (and water), such as fluorine, chlorine, hydroxyl group, carbon and sulfur.

As part of the project, Dr Martínez will study the origin and evolution of the Moon’s volatile reservoirs and investigate the potential of using these resources’ sub-products. With this in mind, Dr Martínez proposes analysing the micro and nanostructure of volatile-rich mineral phases gathered by the Artemis III mission using a transmission electron microscope (TEM) and synchrotron radiation, as well as samples brought back from the Apollo missions which have not yet been examined.

“Examining the (sub)microstructure of volatile-rich minerals, such as for example apatite, is important because it can reveal the processes and nature of the magma which formed the rock, as well as also the presence or absence of fluids, whether they be primary (those existing in the moment in which the mineral was formed) or secondary (late fluids modifying the original mineral)”, the UAB researcher explains. “For example, apatite is used widely in scientific literature to determine the abundance of volatile elements in the source from which they crystallise, given that it is capable of storing these elements within its crystalline structure. Nonetheless, little is known about its (sub)microstructure”. She goes on to add “this mineral can be found in all types of formation environments, which makes it very useful as a process tracer”.

A trajectory linked to the analysis of extraterrestrial material

Marina Martínez holds a PhD in Planetary Sciences from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (2021), and a BSc in Geology from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2013), as well as a MSc in Astrophysics, Particle Physics and Cosmology from the University of Barcelona (2015).

Her research career began at the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC) in 2013, where she joined the Group of Meteorites, Asteroids and Minor Bodies of the Solar System (J.M. Trigo-Rodríguez, IP) and stayed until 2016. Some of her outstanding achievements include receiving a grant from the European Mineralogy Union (EMU) to study Planetary Mineralogy at the University of Glasgow (2014), several grants from the University of New Mexico to conduct her PhD studies, a travel grant by the Meteoritical Society sponsored by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and, more recently, a Margarita Salas postdoctoral fellowship. Dr Martínez also received the Wiley Award for an outstanding presentation at the 82nd Annual Meteoritical Society meeting held in Sapporo, Japan (2019).

Dr Martínez’s PhD thesis, for which she received a cum laude distinction, was directed by Dr Adrian Brearley. She was able to present her thesis thanks to the grants awarded by NASA to Dr Brearley, which was based on microanalytical techniques within the field of mineralogy, petrology and cosmochemistry of extraterrestrial material. Her PhD thesis later yielded six publications in high impact journals which were related to two different projects: (1) the study of the interaction of the first solid materials of the solar system with water from the primordial disk and (2) understand the origin and nature of volatile components of one of Mar’s volcanic systems.

At present, Dr Martínez holds a Margarita Salas fellowship as postdoctoral researcher in the UAB Department of Geology and takes part in the Ministry for Science and Innovation project led by UAB Professor Mercè Corbella. She also forms part of the SGR Group in Applied Mineralogy, Geochemistry and Hidrogeology (MAGH) of the UB Faculty of Earth Sciences, and of the NASA’s SSERVI Center for Advanced Sample Analysis of Astromaterials from the Moon and Beyond CASA Moon (Chip Shearer, IP).