From the earliest days of human history, people have gazed at the moon and wondered: Where did it come from? What is it made of?
Growing up in Taiwan, Yaray Ku was no different. From an early age, she remembers being captivated by the gleaming orb.
But here’s the thing: She might actually be able to answer those questions eventually.
A fourth-year graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences working in the lab of Professor of Geochemistry Stein Jacobsen, Ku is engaged in a project aimed at understanding how the moon formed, and to do it, she’s working with actual lunar samples.
“It’s pretty simple — I see the moon every day, and I really just wonder where it came from,” she said. “Just the simple fact that it’s there amazes me, and I think geology and planetary science is the way to really tackle those questions.”
To do it, Ku first had to get her hands on samples collected from the moon — which is easier said than done.
“We make an official proposal to NASA and ask for samples, and in most cases they send us a small vial — usually less than 100 milligrams — of what is really just powder,” she said. With sample in hand, Ku then sets out to do something that, on the surface, seems horrifyingly wrong — dissolving it with powerful acids.
“Unfortunately, the samples we work with, we have to destroy,” she said. “What we end up with is a solution that contains different elements, and because I’m only interested in certain elements — particularly potassium — I can use resins to collect those and measure their isotopic makeup.”