Jesica Navarrete

The University of Texas
El paso, Texas


Principal Investigator: Dr. Lynn Rothschild
Project: Synthetic Biology

Education and Experience:

The passion I have for scientific research is something that was encouraged by my family from a very young age. My grandfather and role model, was not a classically trained geologist, but worked in mining for many years. Because of his curiosity about the minerals and ores he helped discover, he taught himself about natural sciences, including geology and the environment. This spirit of learning is the legacy that he has left for all of his descendants, and I hope to continue on this pathway in my pursuit of a doctoral degree and in my future work as a mentor and researcher.

I am in my second semester of graduate school at the University of Texas at El Paso in the Geological Sciences doctoral program. My first graduate research experience was working with partners in biology and chemistry on a Boeing/NASA cooperative to evaluate and characterize the degradation pathways of an antimicrobial compound used on the International Space Station to control microbes in the internal thermal coolant system. This is the same coolant fluid that is hooked into astronaut space suits during space walks.

This work transitioned into an NSF-funded interdisciplinary project that combines the fields of microbiology, geochemistry, and isotope chemistry. We can use the information revealed by the stable isotope ratios of transition metals (like Cu or Fe) to interpret the ancient rock record on Earth or perhaps even say something about rocks on other planets. For the past two summers I have worked with my research team to sample the highly contaminated waters of a heavily mined region in central Colorado. Using geochemical and hydrological tools, our work has helped identify the sources and pathways of heavy metal contaminants as well as potential sinks for these contaminants. My interest is in identifying and studying microorganisms in these extreme systems to determine if they can be indicators of toxicity as well as passive agents for remediation as they readily thrive in these harsh and extreme environments.

My professional and life goals are to contribute to the NASA vision as we work to improve life here, extend life to there, and find life beyond....