Growing up on a cattle ranch, Amanda Stockton dreams of searching for life elsewhere in the universe. Dr. Amanda Stockton is an assistant professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry department at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her work walks the line between engineering and science to develop instrumentation capable of looking for organic molecules elsewhere in the solar system. These molecules could be the feedstock for an emergence of life or the remnants of past life now extinct on places like Europa, Enceladus, and Mars. Dr. Stockton grew up on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, where she graduated from the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she majored in Aerospace Engineering and Chemistry – seemingly unrelated topics but perfect for her “dream job,” i.e. the one she has now. After obtaining a masters at Brown in chemistry, she earned her PhD with Dr. Richard Mathies at the University of California, Berkeley working on increasing the analytical chemistry capabilities of the Mars Organic Analyzer microchip capillary electrophoresis instrument platform. She continued in this vein at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, by furthering the microfluidic engineering side of the technology as first a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow and then as a Technologist. At Georgia Tech, her group’s work seeks to do both the engineering and the science to synergistically promote instrument capabilities and robustness. Currently, the group’s main NASA-funded project is a version of the Mars Organic Analyzer that could fit on a kinetic impactor mission to an icy moon – a project for which testing involves a giant rail gun and a magnetic capture system to decelerate the instrument at 50,000 g or the equivalent of hitting a planet at 5 km/s.
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