Kyle Uckert

I recently earned my PhD in astronomy from New Mexico State University where my dissertation studies focused on the detection of biosignatures in subterranean field samples using a suite of in situ techniques, most notably IR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. At NMSU, I worked with Dr. Nancy Chanover to develop and test a portable IR spectrometer based on acousto-optic tunable filter technology to detect biosignatures in caves. Through a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship from 2013-2016, I also worked with Dr. Stephanie Getty at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on the development of a prototype two-step laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometer to detect organic molecules embedded in rock and icy samples. At JPL, I will be working with Dr. Aaron Parness to further the development of the scientific payload onboard LEMUR, including GURILA, a deep-UV Raman spectrometer, a micro-X-Ray fluorescence spectrometer, and a NIR reflectance spectrometer.  My CV and a description of my research interests are provided on my personal website:

  • New Mexico State University: PhD, Astronomy (Minor in Electrical & Computer Engineering)
  • New Mexico State University: MS, Astronomy (Minor in Electrical & Computer Engineering)
  • Ohio University Honors Tutorial College: BS, Astrophysics (Minor in Mathematics)

Research Interests: 

Astrobiology, Instrument development, Robotics, Subterranean exploration

Professional Experience: 
  • Developing a Scientific Instrument Package for the LEMUR Rock-Climbing Robot, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. I am contributing to the development of an instrument payload for the LEMUR rock-climbing robot, to include an IR spectrometer, a Raman spectrometer, and an XRF spectrometer. Each of these tools produces a dataset unique in characterizing the mineralogy and presence of biosignatures in field samples. Group Leader: Dr. Aaron Parness
  • Optimizing a two-step laser time-of-flight mass spectrometer for in situ astrobiology investigations, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. I was involved with the optimization of a two-step laser desorption time-of-flight mass spectrometer for biosignature detection in synthetic and naturally occurring planetary analog samples. Advisor: Dr. Stephanie Getty
  • Characterization of biomarkers within geologic samples analyzed using in situ spectroscopy techniques, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM. I investigated the biosignature detection capabilities of several in situ techniques including a laser desorption-time-of-flight mass spectrometer, an acousto-optic tunable filter IR point spectrometer, a laser-induced breakdown spectrometer, X-ray diffraction / X-ray fluorescence, and scanning electron microscopy / energy dispersive X-Ray spectrometer. Advisor: Dr. Nancy Chanover
  • An analysis of a stellar occultation by Neptune, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM. I extracted physical atmospheric parameters from a 2008 stellar occultation and compared long baseline stratospheric temperatures with previously published results to determine the cause of the observed variability. Advisor: Dr. Nancy Chanover
  • An evaluation of the James Webb Space Telescope for Ice Giant observations, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM. I used published IR spectra of the Ice Giants to determine the capabilities of observing these bodies with the JWST. Advisor: Dr. Nancy Chanover

Selected Awards: 
  • NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship, NMSU (2013 - 2016)
  • Fall 2016 Outstanding Graduate Award for Graduate School, PhD, NMSU Alumni Association, Las Cruces, NM. (December 2016)
  • Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology, American Philosophical Society (July 2016)
  • Barry Neil Rappaport Endowed Memorial Scholarship Award, NMSU Department of Astronomy (October 2015)
  • A. Scott Murrell Memorial Endowed Scholarship, NMSU Department of Astronomy (May 2014)
  • College of Arts & Sciences 3 Minute Thesis Competition: 1st Place, NMSU College of Arts & Sciences (April 2014)

Selected Publications: 
  1. K. Uckert, S. Getty, A. Grubisec, X. Li, W. B. Brinckerhoff, N. J. Chanover. IR Resonance Enhanced Organic Detection with a Two-Step Laser Desorption Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer. Icarus, Under Review.
  2. K. Uckert, N. J. Chanover, S. Getty, D. G. Voelz, W. B. Brinckerhoff, N. McMillan, X. Xiao, P. J. Boston, X. Li, A. McAdam, D. A. Glenar, A. Chavez. The Characterization of Biosignatures in Caves using an Instrument Suite. Astrobiology, Accepted.
  3. K. Uckert, N. J. Chanover, D. G. Voelz, X. Xiao, P. J. Boston, D. A. Glenar. Demonstration of a portable AOTF IR spectrometer for in situ exploration of planetary surfaces. Aerospace Conference, 2015 IEEE, pp 1–9, March 2015.
  4. X. Li, K. Uckert, S. Getty, A. Grubisic, W. Brinckerhoff, T. Cornish, S. Ecelberger, N. Chanover. Analysis of aqueous environments by laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Aerospace Conference, 2015 IEEE, pp 1–10, March 2015.
  5. K. Uckert, N. J. Chanover, C. B. Olkin, L. A. Young, H. B. Hammel, C. Miller, J. M. Bauer. An investigation of the temperature variations in Neptune’s upper stratosphere including a July 2008 stellar occultation event. Icarus, Vol. 232, pp 22–33, April 2014.
  6. K. Uckert, N. J. Chanover, S. Getty, W. B. Brinckerhoff, X. Li, M. Floyd, D. G. Voelz, X. Xifeng, R. Tawalbeh, N. McMillan, A. Chavez, P. J. Boston, D. A. Glenar, S. Ecelberger, and T. Cornish. A comparative study of in situ biosignature detection spectroscopy techniques on planetary surfaces. Aerospace Conference, 2014 IEEE, pp 1–12, March 2014.
  7. F. Alibay, P. Fernandes, R. McGranaghan, J. Leonard, R. Clegg, P. Craig, M. Day, N. Fougere, Z. Girazian, S. Hosseini, M. Hutchins, J. Scully, K. Uckert, M. Malaska, A. Patthoff, P. Ries, C. Budney, K. Mitchell. Design of a low cost mission to the Neptunian system. Aerospace Conference, 2014 IEEE, pp 1–19, March 2014.
  8. N. Chanover, D. Voelz, D. Glenar, X. Xiao, R. Tawalbeh, K. Uckert, P. Boston, S. Getty, W. Brinckerhoff, P. Mahaffy, X. Li. Results from an integrated AOTF-LDTOF spectrometer suite for planetary surfaces. Aerospace Conference, 2013 IEEE, pp 1–14, March 2013.
  9. N. Chanover, R. Tawalbeh, D. Glenar, D. Voelz, X. Xiao, K. Uckert, P. Boston, S. Getty, W. Brinckerhoff, P. Mahaffy, T. Cornish, and S. Ecelberger. Rapid assessment of high value samples: An AOTF-LDTOF spectrometer suite for planetary surfaces. Aerospace Conference, 2012 IEEE, pp 1–10, March 2012.
Kyle Uckert
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109