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Will NASA's Mars rover find signs of life? A Q&A with a Curiosity astrobiologist.

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And we're really focused on determining what kind of organic compounds are present in these materials, specifically focused on amino acids and nucleobases, which are the basic building blocks of life. So part of my time is spent working on that research, the meteorite stuff.

The other half of my time I'm devoting towards MSL and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) experiment, where we've been working on a wet chemistry experiment that will target those same types of organic compounds found in some meteorites, the amino acids and nucleobases, through a chemical reaction with the soil and rock materials collected by the rover Curiosity on Mars. [11 Amazing Things Curiosity Can Do]

We've been optimizing that experiment for SAM and are pretty much chomping at the bit, waiting for the opportunity to study rock samples on Mars. So yeah, we're looking forward to the SAM wet chemistry experiments.

What do you do specifically for MSL?

Glavin: I'm a MSL participating scientist and a member of the SAM team, primarily focused on the GCMS — gas chromatography-mass spectrometry — analysis of organic compounds, if they're present in the Martian surface materials, and more specifically this wet chemistry experiment, which is basically a front end extraction for the GCMS analysis.

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