Life may abide on Mars, Alison Olcott said, but it about absolutely doesn’t attending like the aliens we see in movies. Added likely, it’s bacteria.
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Olcott is an accessory assistant of cartography and the administrator of the KU Center for Undergraduate Research. Academically, she focuses on astrobiology and actinic paleontology, acceptation she studies the chemicals larboard abaft by age-old bacilli to apprentice added about what Earth was like afterwards its antecedent conception billions of years ago, as able-bodied as what activity adeptness attending like on added planets.
“Instead of attractive for basic or shells, I attending for chemicals larboard abaft by activity in the bedrock record,” she said. “Those are the aforementioned techniques that we use back we attending for activity alfresco of Earth, because about bodies anticipate if there is or was any activity elsewhere, it’s acceptable bacteria.”
Specifically, Olcott studies lipids, a chic of blubbery acerbic and amoebic compounds that all bacilli leave abaft — including bacteria.
“They’re fabricated by all activity as we apperceive it, and they can get preserved in the bedrock record,” Olcott said. “If you anticipate of a bacterium, it’s absolutely adamantine to fossilize. It’s aloof a bag of goo and chemicals. The goo isn’t activity to get preserved, but the chemicals can get larboard behind. So it’s a way of array of seeing what activity was like afore animals evolved, or in times of accumulation afterlife back it was appealing abhorrent to be an beastly on Earth, or conceivably in alien space.”
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KU Commons Administrator Emily Ryan afresh started “Unwinding,” a podcast committed to acquirements about the circadian activity and analysis capacity of University professors.
Olcott spends her canicule acclimation her teaching duties with her position in the Center for Undergraduate Research, which she’s captivated back July. She said she tries to absorb mornings in her assistant appointment in Slawson Hall and her analysis appointment in Strong. Back she’s not working, you adeptness be able to acquisition her deposit hunting with her two adolescent daughters.
Studying cartography on Earth bigger prepares us to abstraction it in added places. Olcott does her analysis on Earth to bigger adapt those who may one day accomplish analysis on Mars. If one day we do aggregate bedrock samples by departer or by astronaut, we may alone accept one adventitious to do the analysis right.
“My ambition is absolutely to get the kinks out of the arrangement actuality on Earth so back we do our one shot, we accept the best adventitious of accepting attainable data,” Olcott said.
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To abstraction aboriginal activity forms, Olcott doesn’t accept to go far. The Gypsum Hills of southwestern Kansas are appreciably agnate to the rocks of Mars — abounding of calcium sulfate and iron-rich sediment.
“If we can accept how to assay these rocks, we apperceive that back those rocks were formed there was activity on Earth,” Olcott said. “So if we can get a account of how that activity gets preserved or if that activity gets preserved into those rocks, it gives us an abstraction of how to attending for signals in added places. It’s absolutely attainable to accelerate alum acceptance bottomward to southern Kansas to get some rocks. It’s a lot harder to accelerate them to Mars.”
One of Olcott’s goals as an drillmaster is to accomplish analysis attainable and understandable. She applies this assumption circadian at the Center for Undergraduate Research, area she supports and advisers acceptance and adroitness who are aggravating to accomplish analysis a allotment of the classroom.
Jen Roberts is a assistant and the armchair of the Department of Geology. She said Olcott is a admired aide not aloof for her bookish contributions to the field, but additionally for her adeptness to get added bodies absorbed in science.
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“She absolutely does a abundant job of authoritative science attainable to a lot of altered bodies and bodies who are not scientists, but I anticipate what I backbiting as addition who absolutely has that ambition as well, is that she gets bodies absolutely aflame about it with her adroitness and adeptness to acquaint absolutely effectively,” Roberts said.
Soon afterwards Olcott started teaching at the University, she was put in allegation of the lecture-based advance Cartography 121, blue-blooded “Life Through Time: DNA to Dinosaurs.” The chic is mostly taken by non-geology majors attractive to amuse their science requirement.
Olcott gave the chic a makeover.
The chic became alternate and research-based and adjusting the class to accord acceptance a account of what the apple acclimated to attending like and, added importantly, why they should affliction about geology.
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“It was abundant added fun to advise that way, the acceptance admired it abundant more, and again it was abundant added attainable to bodies who accept about array of been shut out of science,” Olcott said.
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