Laura Rodriguez

Rice University
Houston, TX

Earth Science
Principal Investigator: Dr. Chris McKay

I have always had a fascination for space. As a child I would force my father to wake up to watch meteor showers with me; we would spend hours in the backyard looking up into the deep dark sky. Whenever I would look up at the stars a wonderful sensation of excitement and wonder would captivate me. I wanted to know what else was out there, I wanted to explore the unknown; I wanted to become an astronaut.

Born and raised in Killeen, Texas, I was lucky enough to grow up near Johnson Space Center in Houston. Throughout the years I looked up to NASA and the work they did. I wanted to be a part of this organization that had inspired me as a child. This was all that I was certain of when I matriculated into Rice University; I knew I wanted to be an astronaut, but I wasn’t sure what work I wanted to do. Every semester I changed my mind as to what to major in; it started with mechanical engineering, then chemical engineering, followed by biochemistry, and finally Earth science. Over the years I realized I wanted to work in a lab that researched the potential for life on other planets. This passion came after taking a course in astrobiology; I was intrigued by all the factors that must be considered when investigating the possibility of life in outer space. It requires knowledge from almost every science field as well as published work; pieces to the puzzle are scattered about everywhere. That is what I love most about astrobiology; determining whether a celestial body is habitable requires you to look at the whole picture to solve the puzzle.

Currently I am majoring in geochemistry with a minor in biochemistry and cell biology. After I graduate I plan on going to graduate school to eventually receive a doctorate in organic chemistry as I conduct research related to the reactivity of organic materials in space in an effort to determine the origin of life or the possibility of life on other planetary bodies. At present I work with Dr. Caroline Masiello in a lab that is researching the biochemical composition of switchgrass biofuel crops in response to nitrogen fertilizer. Last summer I was hired as a research assistant at LDEO of Columbia University where I worked with Dr. Dallas Abbott to determine whether there was a cometary impact into the Gulf of Carpentaria around 500 AD by analyzing sedimentary cores from the targeted site.

Beginning with this internship and throughout graduate school I hope to learn and contribute as much as possible to the astrobiology community. It is my goal to someday become an astronaut as well as an AMES research scientist.