McDonnell Distinguished Lecture Series Public Lecture
Stardust in the Laboratory
About 4.6 billion years ago the Solar System condensed from an interstellar cloud infused with dust and gas from winds emanating from dying stars. In the very hot and harsh environment that prevailed during the early epochs of the condensation most of these dust grains were destroyed, but some survived and were preserved in the matrix of primitive meteorites, which occasionally fall to the Earth. In this presentation we will show how stardust grains in meteorites can be identified in the laboratory using nanoscale mass spectrometry and electron microscopy, and how the results of such studies lead to important new insights about the creation of the elements by stars and supernovae. These laboratory findings significantly complement the studies of these processes carried out with ground-based and space-borne astronomical telescopes.