Planetary scientist Myriam Telus wins NASA Early Career Award

Myriam Telus
Myriam Telus
Myriam Telus, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, has received funding from NASA through the Planetary Science Early Career Award program to support her research in cosmochemistry, the chemical analysis of extraterrestrial materials.

Telus is one of six early-career scientists chosen for funding through the program, which aims to advance the research and professional development of exceptional early-career scientists. The awards of up to $200,000 to each of the selected investigators will allow the recipients to continue their work and meaningfully contribute to the planetary science community.

Telus’s research focuses on understanding the timing and conditions of the formation and early evolution of the solar system. Through detailed and precise analyses of meteorites—pieces of asteroids that have fallen to Earth—she finds clues to the formation and evolution of planetesimals, the building blocks of planets.

At UC Santa Cruz, Telus has directed the development of cosmochemistry and scanning electron microscope (SEM) labs in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. She is also repurposing a room in the cosmochemistry lab to be a clean and protected area for storing meteorite samples. This area will also be suitable for storing samples returned from NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex mission and the Japanese Hayabusa 2 mission, which aim to collect samples from the asteroids Bennu and Ryugu, respectively.

Telus has studied the isotopic composition of carbonate minerals in a class of meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites, and she hopes to carry out similar analyses for returned samples from Bennu and Ryugu.

She also has an ongoing project to analyze iron and nickel isotopes in pristine chondrites, which can yield clues to the conditions and timing of the solar system’s formation by constraining the initial abundance of iron-60, an iron isotope with a half-life of 2.6 million years.

In addition, as part of an interdisciplinary collaboration, Telus is working on meteorite outgassing analyses to place constraints on the initial composition of planetary atmospheres.

“Meteorites are the only samples available to directly test how the initial ingredients that went into making a planet influence the composition of the atmosphere,” she said. “We have a unique research collaboration that brings together expertise from astronomy, planetary science, and material science to develop experimental techniques aimed to facilitate interpretation of exoplanet observations.”

Telus earned her B.S. in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago and her Ph.D. in geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She joined the UCSC faculty in 2017.