Photo by Julio Avila
By Julio Avila
He rocks out with rocks and is out of this world. Okay, he may not actually be from out of this world, but his work is related to what he wants to know, and that is out of this world.
He is Steven Jaret, a 28-year-old graduate geology student. His preferred musical genre is rock and he likes the Rolling Stones and Stone Temple Pilots, all of which are meant in a figurative sense.
He is a scientist, a geologist and works in a lab. For the most part, his lab is not a typical enclosed space with vials, chemicals and flasks, as depicted in “Dexter’s Laboratory” or a stereotypical lab, and he does not wear a lab coat with goggles.
His lab is wide open and extends to the farthest reach of the terrestrial surface. Even beyond that, his lab also reaches into the heavens and worlds that are light-years away.
Jaret said he wants to understand aspects of other planets, specifically meteor impacts on Mars. His research involves rock debris from Mars that, as a result of meteor impacts there, travelled to Earth.
“The rocks we have from Mars have been affected by impacts,” Jaret said. “What I try to do is understand what that process does.”
The Mars rock fragments, Jaret explained, “stay around in space” after an impact, travel towards the sun and, if Earth is in the path of fragment, Earth’s gravity will pull the fragment to it.
The fragments “become meteorites themselves,” when they fall through the atmosphere and hit Earth.
By examining the sample, scientists can denote that the sample is from Mars based on techniques such as infrared light spectroscopy, the process of shooting infrared light to determine composition.
Jaret also studies meteor impacts on Earth and uses these impacts to compare what happens on Mars.
“These are, like, the coolest rocks in the universe,” Jaret said.
Jaret was born in 1987, in Atlanta, Georgia, where he lived during his childhood.
His interest in geology and meteorites sparked in high school. Jaret said there was a science center at his school with a 500-piece meteorite collection. He was able to work with the astronomer in charge of the collection.
“I know that when Ed handed me a giant iron meteorite and said ‘okay, hold this, this is from outer space,’” Jaret said, referring to the astronomer at his high school’s meteorite center. “It was definitely an important moment,” said Jaret.
He said that he knew this is what he wanted to work with going into his future. He attended the University of Tennessee from 2006 to 2009, majoring in geology. He did his undergraduate research project during his sophomore year, worked in the department’s laboratories and went to conferences, all of which combined for a “really good experience.”
Jaret said that “they really went out of their way to make sure I felt like a member of the community.”
Two of his geology professors from the University of Tennessee had degrees from Harvard and encouraged Jaret to apply there for graduate school to obtain his master’s degree.
Harvard, with an acceptance rate of six percent, according to U.S. News and World Report, accepted him.
“I was very surprised, kind of like ‘they really want me,” Jaret said with a tone of confusion remembering his reaction. “Which is, apparently, a common thought among people there.”
At Harvard, he pursued his master’s for two-and-a-half years, but it was not what he hoped. He said he thought it was essential to “have a good environment with multiple advisors to learn a lot from,” and he only had one.
At first, he had considered Stony Brook University for graduate school, but chose Harvard. He then chose Stony Brook for his doctorate, and said he praised the professors and the school for its laboratories, research and quality.
“They have a sense of building community,” Jaret said. “They want you to interact with as many people as possible, learn as much as you possibly can, to find your own project.” That project is his meteorite impact research.
He works with Professor Timothy Glotch, a professor in the geosciences department, who said he is not surprised Jaret came to Stony Brook because “we’re very good at what we do.” He also explained what he and Jaret hope to understand more about the impact process on Mars from Jaret’s work.
“We know so little about how impact processes affect the surface of Mars, it’s hard to get there and it’s hard to study that on Mars.” Glotch said. “So we’re doing our best job of studying that process by finding the best, or most similar environment on earth.”
Aside from Jaret’s research, Glotch said he thinks Jaret is a hard worker and great student.
“He cares a lot about the science, he’s more interested in impact processes than anybody I know,” Glotch said. “He’s a lot of fun to have in the lab.”
When Jaret is not in the lab, he performs other tasks. He is a teaching assistant for an undergraduate field geology course led by Professor Troy Rasbury.
“He’s a pretty active guy, he has a lot of fingers in a lot of pots.” Rasbury said. “He is basically doing all the work so that makes my job easier,” she said comically.
Rasbury added that Jaret helps with grading assignments and helps students with classwork.
He also likes to participate with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science to learn how to better communicate science to the general audience.
Going forward, he said he wants to pursue a career in academia, preferably as a professor at a state school.
“I like that mix of research and teaching,” Jaret said, “And I really like interacting with students.”