Ice Spectroscopy Laboratory (ISL)

ICE-HEART (Ice Chamber for Europa High-Energy Electron And Radiation-Environment Testing) built to reproduce Europa's trailing hemisphere radiation and temperature conditions in order to determine how the primary electrons (up to 30 MeV) and the secondary X-rays (Bremsstrahlung) penetrate through surface ice of Europa and damage organic matter -- including potential life -- if present.

At the Ice Spectroscopy Laboratory (ISL) of JPL our goal is to understand how ices and organics evolve in the Universe (interstellar, circumstellar, outer planets, inner solar system, and Earth) and use this knowledge to support present and future NASA missions. Our research at ISL currently focuses on comets, Europa, and Mars. We derive spectroscopic properties of ices and organics at a wide variety of wavelengths (0.1 -500 microns) and temperatures (5 - 150 K). We also study spectral variations in ices due to radiation bombardment, primarily using ultraviolet photons and electrons of energies 1-100 keV (onsite) and from 10-30 MeV (in collaboration with NIST).


A wide variety of starting ice compositions are used, including water, methane, methanol, ammonia, carbon dioxide, salts and more complex organics. Temperatures, pressures, and radiation environments are also tunable in our experiments, enabling studies of a variety of space-like environments: the Interstellar Medium, the Kuiper Belt and outer Solar System bodies, inner Solar System, and Exoplanet Atmospheres.


At ISL we recently developed in-situ two-step laser ablation and ionization time of flight mass spectrometry (2S-LAI-TOFMS) that has unique abilities to analyze the composition of solid material, including ices in hands-off mode - at the sample's native temperature. With the help of this instrument our research showed for the first time that complex radiation chemistry is occurring even in the coldest parts of the Universe. We are now in the process of miniaturizing the 2S-LAIMS for in-situ organic detection on Mars and other bodies in our Solar System, including asteroids and comets.

2-step laser ablation and ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometer (2S-LAI-TOFMS) developed at the Ice Spectroscopy Lab (ISL) of JPL. This instrument is capable of analyzing a wide variety of molecular composition of solids organics, metals, salts, etc. An infrared laser is fired to ablate the solid, generating a predominantly neutral plume, which is crossed with an ultraviolet laser ionizing atoms, molecules, and clusters that are then analyzed with a 100 cm long time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Our new PicoTOF instrument will be about 1/4th of this length and is aimed to be used as a hand-held or arm-mounted device for surface organic and mineral detection.

Ongoing Research Projects: 
  •  JPL Research & Technology Development: High Energy (MeV) Electron Damage Depths of Organics in Ice Analogs of Europa’s Surface
  • NASA SSW: Europa's Photochemical Sulfur Cycle
  • NASA PA: Understanding the Near-Surface Atmospheres of Icy Bodies:  Role of Photoionization of Organic Impurities in Icy Surfaces
  • NASA PICASSO: Towards Miniaturization of Instrumentation for In-Situ Organic Detection: Hands-Off PicoTOF
  • Europa Mission: SUDA Instrument