Skip to Content


Campus & People

User-Defined Navigation:


Dr. Steven Symes studies water on Mars

Among the eight remaining planets astronomers chose to keep in our solar system, the mysterious Red Planet remains.  One UTC chemistry professor has brought Mars down to Earth, through laboratory exploration on the UTC campus and in California. 

In a three-year research project funded by NASA, Dr. Steven Symes is collaborating with Dr. Lars Borg, Research Scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to conduct chronological and mineralogical studies of Martian meteorites, NASA-Mars Fundamental Research Program.

“This project is concerned with a question planetary scientists have been asking for decades: ‘When was liquid water present on Mars?’” Symes said.

Photographs taken of Viking missions to Mars in the mid-70s have provided evidence that supports the theory that liquid water was a once stable phase on the Martian surface.

“Since life as we know it requires liquid water, the presence of water on Mars at least opens the possibility that life may have taken hold there,” Symes said.

NASA has approved a grant of $28,610 for Symes’ and Borg’s research.  The project will be completed in two phases on both colleagues’ campuses.  The first phase will include the development of a sequential acid-leaching procedure used to obtain pure fractions of aqueous alteration products; hydrated salts and clay minerals that can only form in the presence of water.

The first phase of research will be conducted at UTC.  Symes will use the Chemistry Department’s inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES), as well as other on-site laboratory facilities.

The second phase will take place at LLNL with the use of the laboratory’s mass spectrometry techniques.  These techniques aid in the measurement of the isotopic composition of the alteration products, which can be used to determine the age of the alteration.  This portion of the research will provide Symes and Borg with the dates when liquid water was present on the surface of Mars.

“It’s one thing to be able to say there used to be water on Mars.  It’s another thing entirely to be able to say when that water was present,” said Symes.

September 1, 2006

More News…