News Release

Astrochemistry Students and NASA Scientist Study Wind Cave

Group of students in the cave, wearing hardhats, gathered in a group as they collect water samples in bottles.
Marc Ohms, Wind Cave’s Physical Scientist, second from left, observes students as they test water along the cave’s tour route.

NPS Photo

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News Release Date: March 20, 2019

Contact: Tom Farrell, 605-745-1130

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, S.D. – Fifteen students and two faculty from the University of Northern Iowa, along with a NASA scientist, spent their spring break in the depths of Wind Cave as part of a simulated astrobiological field expedition.

The undergraduate students were learning what an astrobiologist may go through in terms of field sampling. Students used a variety of instruments including Geiger Counters, an XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence), and smart phone microscopes to study the cave. Besides learning how to use the instruments under field conditions, their results will provide the park with new information about the cave.

“We are hoping to gain new insights into the carbon and mineral flow through the cave as the water percolates from the surface,” said Dr. Sebree, an astrochemistry professor at the University of Northern Iowa. “All the students gained valuable hands on experience looking for the flow of energy in the forms of heat, air, and water.”

Providing additional support was Dr. Morgan Cable, an astrobiologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Cable’s field of study is comparing extreme environments on earth, such as lava tubes in Iceland, to other areas in the solar system where life may be found. Extreme environments such as Wind Cave help scientists better understand the limits of life.

“We are happy to host such a high-powered group of students and faculty,” said Park Superintendent Vidal Dávila. “We’re looking forward to learning more about the cave and its properties from their research here.”

The student’s trip was partially funded by a grant by the NASA Iowa Space Grant Consortium.


Last updated: March 20, 2019

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