Undergrad mixes with space scientists

Patterson has earned an internship with the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Texas this summer. (Chris Roussaskis Photo)

A second-year Earth Sciences student is preparing to take his research to new heights this summer.

Calder Patterson is one of 12 successful candidates to be awarded an internship with the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), an organization that provides support services to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

This June, Patterson will be packing his bags for Houston, Texas, where he will spend 10 weeks studying and compiling a literary review of Canada’s Haughten Crater. The Carleton undergraduate will be examining factors such as the geological history and morphology of the bowl-shaped depression located on Devon Island, N.W.T.

“It’s going to be pretty cool because it’s going to be really complete,” Patterson says. “I’ve already done one project where I’ve conducted research and written about it, but this is going to be a cut above because I get to have an absolute final result.”

The Carleton student says he is excited about being in a professional environment.

“Going there to work with these scientists who are very highly regarded because they work for a subset of NASA is like profession leagues stuff,” he says. “It’s amazing to think I’ll be rubbing elbows with some of these people.”

Patterson’s invitation to the LPI was the result of a 12-week Dean’s Summer Research Internship he did in 2015. Under the direction of Richard Ernst, Carleton’s scientist-in-residence, and Prof. Claire Samson, Patterson investigated and co-wrote an abstract about volcanism on Venus. He will be presenting a poster of his research at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) this March.

“My mentor wanted me to do an oral presentation, but I’ve never done that before,” Patterson says. “It’s my first conference so I wanted to splash around in the shallow end first.”

Ernst says the conference is a “career-enhancing experience where one can expect magical moments.”

He says he once met Harrison Schmitt, an astronaut who was part of the last manned mission to the moon, at the event a few years ago.

Patterson hopes industry professionals at the LPSC will see his poster and offer their advice and opinions about his work. He wants to take their comments to further his research, write a longer paper and develop a mathematical model that proves the correlation between moving magma and the creation of pit chains.

“There are still many pieces of the puzzle missing for me to be able to accomplish all this,” Patterson says. “And more eyes are better.”

After the LPI internship, Patterson says he wants to look for more opportunities.

While Patterson enjoys exploring the planets, he says he wouldn’t mind gaining experience as a geological assistant. “I like being outdoors. It’s a great passion of mine going camping, hiking and stuff, so doing that simultaneously with geology would be really, really fun.”

At the end of the day, Patterson says he’ll be taking the best opportunity that is presented to him. “If there are none,” he says. “I’ll just do summer school instead.”

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