Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences News

UT professor’s research used to prepare for next Mars mission


WATE-TV interviewed Jeffrey Moersch, earth and planetary sciences professor, about his research which is laying the groundwork for the next NASA Mars rover mission set for 2020. Visit the WATE-TV website for the story. The Tennessean also featured the professor’s work.

Professor Part of NASA Team Preparing for 2020 Mars Mission


Over the next five years, Jeffrey Moersch will be traveling to faraway places—from the Arctic to the Chilean desert—in a quest to learn more about a place even farther away—Mars. The earth and planetary sciences professor is part of a new NASA-funded research team helping prepare for the Mars 2020 rover mission. The interdisciplinary team is a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and is one of seven to receive a five-year grant of about $8 million.

Bitten Bones Show Alligators are Rough Feeders


National Geographic featured the research of Stephanie Drumheller, an earth and planetary sciences lecturer. Drumheller’s work involved giving alligators n pig bones or cow legs. Through understanding the damage modern alligators leave on bones, Drumheller and other paleontologists can follow the depredations of alligators and their crocodile cousins through time. “In order to see the

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Triassic Bites and a Carnivore Conundrum


National Geographic featured an in-depth story on the research of Stephanie Drumheller, an earth and planetary sciences lecturer. She and her Virginia Tech colleagues examined 220-million-year-old bite marks in the thigh bones of an old reptile and found evidence that two predators at the top of their respective food chains interacted—with the smaller potentially having

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Tooth Serves as Evidence of 220 Million-Year-old Attack

Reconstruction of the interaction of large land predators (rauisuchid) and aquatic predator (phytosaur) about 210 million years ago based on research by a joint team of University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech researchers. Christopher Hayes, a freshman at Virginia Tech, composed the drawing.

At the beginning of the age of dinosaurs, gigantic reptiles—distant relatives of modern crocodiles—ruled the earth. Some lived on land and others in water and it was thought they didn’t much interact. But a tooth found by a UT researcher in the thigh of one of these ancient animals is challenging this belief.

Threatening Asteroid a Gravity-defying Ball of Rubble


WBIR-TV featured the research of Ben Rozitis, a postdoctoral researcher, which found that a gravity-defying asteroid that poses one of the largest threats to Earth is actually more like a giant clump of flour. The fact that the rocks and dust are not flying apart means the asteroid is being held together by something more

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Feared Asteroid Turns Out to Be A Pile Of Rubble


Research by a UT team is receiving ample news coverage including on The Weather Channel,, and Times of India. Ben Rozitis, a postdoctoral researcher; Eric MacLennan, a doctoral candidate; and Joshua Emery, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, studied near-Earth asteroid 1950 DA and discovered that the body, which

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Cross-Country Science: UT Faculty Mentor Inner-City New Jersey Youth


When faculty members Karen Lloyd and Andrew Steen saw an opportunity to introduce a group of inner-city New Jersey high school students to science, they made it happen. Lloyd, an assistant professor of microbiology, and her husband, Steen, an assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences, just completed their second summer program with students and teachers from Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark.

Two Doctoral Students Win NASA Fellowships to Further Their Studies

Two earth and planetary sciences doctoral students will be furthering their study of the cosmos with help from NASA. NASA Earth and Space Sciences Fellowships are awarded once a year “to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines required to achieve NASA’s scientific goals.” The recipients, including UT’s Eric MacLennan, of Boston, Massachusetts, and Richard Cartwright, of Atlanta, Georgia, will each get $30,000 a year for three years.

Staff Recognized for Service at Annual Honors Banquet


On Wednesday, Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek celebrated faculty, staff, and students for their accomplishments throughout the past academic year. Sally Parish, director of the Center for Leadership and Service; Rita Smith, executive associate dean of UT Libraries; and Melody Branch, business manager for the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, were recognized for their service to the university.