Dr. Simon Clemett, a Senior Scientist for ERC on the JSC Engineering, Technology, and Science (JETS) contract, designed and built a state-of-the-art second generation two-step laser mass spectrometer capable of analyzing the organic composition of samples at micron spatial resolution with sub-femtomole sensitives.
For any non-scientists out there, this device allows Simon to measure EXTREMELY small cometary dust particles gathered as part of the STARDUST mission. To give you a sense of how small a femtomole is, recall from your high school chemistry that a mole defines the amount of molecules in a particular sample. One “mole” is 6.02*10^23 molecules! Simon’s device measures ONE BILLIONTH of ONE MILLIONTH of a mole, so he can practically count the number and type molecules in his measurement samples. Given that only very small particles were collected as part of the STARDUST mission, Simon’s device is critical to the analysis of mass and composition for these particles.
Take a look at the video below to see and learn about how the Laser Mass Spectrometer works!