Larry R. Nittler
Cosmochemistry; presolar grains in meteorites; secondary ion mass spectrometry and planetary remote sensing
B.A., Physics, Cornell University , 1991
Ph.D., Physics, Washington University, 1996
Cosmochemist Larry Nittler studies the origin and evolution of stars, the Galaxy, and the Solar System, both through laboratory analysis of extraterrestrial materials like meteorites and interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) and through planetary remote sensing via spacecraft.
Nittler’s laboratory research focuses on the isotopic, chemical, and mineralogical properties of microscopic extraterrestrial materials including presolar grains and organic matter in meteorites, interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) and spacecraft-returned samples, including solar wind and comet Wild 2 samples returned by the Genesis and Stardust missions, respectively. is especially interested in presolar grains and organic matter contained in meteorites and in what they can tell us about our cosmic origins. He is particularly interested in presolar grains: tiny (millionths of a meter) dust particles trapped in meteorites and IDPs whose isotopic compositions indicate they formed in winds and explosions of ancient dying stars. They give researchers information about a number of processes, including how elements are synthesized inside stars, how the Milky Way galaxy evolves, and what the first solar system materials were.
Nittler helped determine the composition of the asteroid Eros with data from NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission in 2000-2001. As Deputy Principal Investigator on NASA’s MESSENGER mission, which orbited the planet Mercury from 2011-2015, Nittler led efforts to determine the chemical composition of the Solar System’s innermost planet, using remote X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy. He is currently a member of the X-ray Spectrometer Team for the European/Japanese Mercury mission BepiColombo and a NASA Participating Scientists on the Japanese mission Hayabusa2 that recently returned samples from carbonaceous asteroid Ryugu to Earth. Asteroid 5992 Nittler is named in his honor.