Dr. Morgan Leigh Cable

Dr. Morgan Cable is a Technologist in the Instrument Systems Implementation and Concepts Section at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  She is also the Assistant Project Science Systems Engineer for the Cassini Mission, which has been exploring the Saturn system for over 10 years.

Morgan’s research focuses on organic and biomarker detection strategies, through both in situ and remote sensing techniques.  While earning her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, she designed receptor sites for the detection of bacterial spores, the toughest form of life.  As a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at JPL, Morgan developed novel protocols to analyze organics such as amines and fatty acids using small, portable microfluidic sensors.  She is currently working as a Collaborator on the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE), an instrument selected for NASA’s next mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa; this spectrometer will map Europa’s surface and search for organics, salts and minerals.

Dr. Cable’s research interests also include ‘weird’ life and prebiotic chemistry.  She has performed laboratory experiments to study the liquid hydrocarbon lakes of Titan, a moon of Saturn.  She and colleagues were the first to discover a co-crystal, the equivalent of a ‘hydrated mineral’, made exclusively of organics that may exist on Titan’s surface.  She has been involved in several studies led by the Keck Institute for Space Studies, the most recent of which was to explore what kinds of life could survive or even thrive in exotic solvents (other than liquid water).

In addition to biomarker sensor design and the search for ‘weird’ life, Morgan has also explored several extreme environments on Earth that serve as analogs for other places in the solar system, such as Mars.  She was involved in research expeditions to the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert in Chile, and to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  Morgan has also co-led a team of young researchers on multiple expeditions to Iceland to study how life colonizes a fresh lava field.  The goal of this work is to inform future Mars sample return missions in terms of sample selection, preservation and analysis.

  • Ph.D. Inorganic Chemistry, California Institute of Technology, 2010
  • B.A. Chemistry (minors in Physics and Mathematics), Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, 2005

Research Interests: 
  • Planetary science
  • Remote sensing
  • In situ sensor design
  • Lab-on-a-chip technologies
  • Lanthanide photochemistry
  • Inorganic chemistry

Professional Experience: 
  • Cassini Assistant Project Science Systems Engineer (2015-present). Supports the Project Scientist on tasks dealing with science oversight, science trades and science issues for the Cassini Mission.
  • Collaborator on the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) instrument (2015-present). Developing instrument documents and requirements, and supporting calibration activities.
  • Research Scientist in the Cryogenic Chemistry Laboratory (2013-present). Designing and performing various laboratory experiments using custom cryostats to understand chemical and physical processes on Titan’s surface.
  • Task Manager, Instrument Concepts for Europa Exploration (ICEE) project (2013-2014). Retired radiation and planetary protection risk for an imaging spectrometer, the Europa Short Wavelength Infrared Spectrometer (ESWIRS). All tasks were completed within the 1 year timeframe. This work was leveraged to win an instrument proposal, the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE), which was selected for the Europa Mission payload in 2015.
  • Team Lead of multiple research expeditions to Iceland (2012-present). Sampling young and old lava fields as analog environments for Mars.
  • Program Manager, Flyby of Io with Repeat Encounters (FIRE) Mission Study, through the NASA Planetary Science Summer School (2012).
  • Manager of a Space Camp in South Korea (2009-present). Lead of a team of scientists and engineers who volunteer to teach an annual space camp at SongAm StarsValley Observatory in South Korea, which is home to the only Challenger Learning Center in Asia. 

Selected Awards: 
  • NASA Voyager Award, for exceptional leadership and innovation on the Europa Short Wavelength Infrared Spectrometer Project (2015)
  • NASA Mariner Award, for contributing heavily to two major NASA instrument proposals within the space of two months (2014)
  • JPL Outstanding Postdoctoral Research Award in Planetary Science (2012)
  • Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Distinguished Alumnus (2011)
  • NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellow (2010-2013)
  • Herbert Newby McCoy Award for outstanding achievement in chemistry (2010)
  • NASA Graduate Student Research Program (GSRP) Fellow (2008-2010)
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Grant (NDSEG) Fellow (2005-2008)
  • Valedictorian, Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University (2005)

Selected Publications: 
  1. M. Cable, L. Spilker, E. Maize et al. (2016) Enceladus:  A Review of Recent Results. Ann. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci., In preparation.
  2. H. Maynard-Casely, R. Hodyss, M. Cable et al. (2016) A co-crystal between benzene and ethane: a potential evaporite material for Saturn's moon Titan. IUCrJ, 3 (3), 1-8.
  3. S. Vance, M. Kropf, T. Loerting, J. Stern, B. Journaux, C. Jamieson, M. Choukroun and M. Cable (2016) "Solids and fluids at low temperatures" in Low-Temperature Materials and Mechanisms. Ed. Y. Bar-Cohen. Taylor & Francis.
  4. C. Lee, M. Cable, S. Hook et al. (2015) An introduction to the NASA Hyperspectral InfraRed Imager (HyspIRI) mission and preparatory activities. Remote Sens. Environ., 167, 6-19.
  5. E. Amador, M. Cable, N. Chaudry et al. (2015) Synchronous in-field application of life-detection techniques in planetary analog missions. Planet. Space Sci., 106, 1-10.
  6. M. Cable, T. Vu, R. Hodyss, et al. (2014) Experimental determination of the kinetics of formation of the benzene-ethane co-crystal and implications for Titan. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41 (5), 5396-5401.
  7. T. Vu, M. Cable, M. Choukroun, et al. (2014) Formation of a new benzene-ethane co-crystalline structure under cryogenic conditions. J. Phys. Chem. A, 118 (23), 4087-4094.
  8. M. Cable, A. Stockton, M. Mora, et al. (2014) Microchip nonaqueous capillary electrophoresis of saturated fatty acids using a novel fluorescent dye. Anal. Methods, 6, 9532-9535.
  9. M. Cable, S. Hörst, C. He, et al. (2014) Identification of primary amines in Titan tholins using nonaqueous microchip capillary electrophoresis. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 403, 99-107.
  10. M. Cable, A. Stockton, M. Mora and P. Willis (2013) Low temperature microchip non-aqueous capillary electrophoresis of aliphatic primary amines: Applications to Titan chemistry.  Anal. Chem., 85 (2), 1124-1131.
  11. M. Cable, J. Kirby, H. Gray and A. Ponce (2013) Enhancement of anion binding in lanthanide optical sensors. Acc. Chem. Res., 46 (11), 2576-2584.
  12. A. Stockton, M. Mora, M. Cable and P. Willis (2013) Design rules and operational optimization for rapid, contamination-free microfluidic transfer using monolithic membrane valves. Sensor Actuator, 177, 668-675.
  13. A. Stockton, M. Mora, M. Cable and P. Willis (2013) Hydrolysis of 3-carboxy-6,8-difluoro-7-hydroxycoumarin (Pacific Blue) succinimidyl ester under acidic and basic conditions. Dyes Pigments, 96 (1), 148-151.
  14. M. Cable, S. Hörst, R. Hodyss, et al. (2012) Titan tholins: Simulating Titan organic chemistry in the Cassini-Huygens era. Chem. Rev., 112 (3), 1882-1909.
  15. M. Cable, D. Levine, J. Kirby, et al. (2011) "Luminescent lanthanide sensors" in Advances in Inorganic Chemistry, Vol 63: Inorganic Photochemistry. Eds. R. van Eldik and G. Stochel.  Elsevier.
Morgan Cable
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109
Phone: (818) 354-2126
Fax Number: (818) 393-4215