Lab Notes for Feb. 27, 2023


Podcast explores natural wonders and those who study, defend them

Rice bioscientist and science communicator Scott Solomon has launched a weekly podcast called “Wild World” to tell stories about Earth’s natural wonders “through the voices of the people who explore, study and protect them.” Each week Solomon interviews a guest from a new location — like a Central American rainforest or the frozen coast of Antarctica — and discusses how and why they choose to work in nature and what they’ve learned and experienced from it.

In the show’s fourth episode, which became available Feb. 22, Solomon speaks with Rice marine biologist and Assistant Professor of Biosciences Adrienne Correa about her research on stony corals, the creatures that build and inhabit coral reefs that a half-billion people depend upon for food or their livelihoods.

“Wild World” sponsors include the Rice Alumni Traveling Owls program. Episodes are available from Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Rice expert co-discovers South Texas meteorites

Linda Welzenbach Fries, a meteorite expert and science writer in Rice’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, is part of a team that found fragments of a meteorite that fell to Earth in the Rio Grande Valley near McAllen, Texas, Feb. 15.

Welzenbach Fries, who served as meteorite collections manager of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History for 15 years prior to joining Rice, partnered on the find with Marc Fries, a planetary scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division and the manager of Meteorite Falls, a NASA website that uses weather radar imagery to plot projected landing sites of meteorites.

Following reports of a fireball in the skies over South Texas, Marc Fries collaborated with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to analyze the projected landing zone, and within hours he and Welzenbach Fries began the 350-mile drive to McAllen.

The Fries discovered four “fully fusion-crusted” meteorites in a privately owned field after the landowner OK’d their hunt and agreed to donate any found fragments to a scientific collection. The four fallen rocks are believed to be fragments of a meteoroid that weighed an estimated 1,100 pounds prior to breaking apart in Earth’s atmosphere.

“Fusion crust is the residual melted rock that ‘fuses’ to the surface of the rock, analogous to the glaze on pottery,” Welzenbach Fries explained in a blog post detailing the discovery. “This happens because only a small fraction of the rock is ablating away due to its rocky nature and cold temperature retained from its time in space. Thus, the rock that lands on the ground is never hot and, in fact, can condense humidity on the surface as frost under the right circumstances.”