Four EAPS professors chosen by NASA to study lunar science - Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences - Purdue University Skip to main content

Four EAPS professors chosen by NASA to study lunar science


NASA has recently selected five new research teams to collaborate on lunar science and sample analysis. The Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) from NASA will use this research to support future exploration of the Moon.

From a pool of highly competitive proposals, only five SSERVI teams were selected.  Four faculty members of Purdue University’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) were selected to be Co-Investigators on three of the five selected teams.

The four faculty members and their SSERVI teams as Co-Investigators are as listed alphabetically as follows:

  • Alexandria Johnson, Assistant Professor, Lunar Structure, Composition, and Processes for Exploration (LunaSCOPE)
  • Brandon Johnson, Associate Professor, Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution (CLOE) and Lunar Structure, Composition, and Processes for Exploration (LunaSCOPE)
  • David Minton, Associate Professor, Lunar Structure, Composition, and Processes for Exploration (LunaSCOPE)
  • Michelle Thompson, Associate Professor, Research Activities Supporting Science and Lunar Exploration (RASSLE)

Each of the teams will have their research supported for five years by SSERVI. Funding for these teams is provided jointly by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. 

“Exploration and science are fundamentally intertwined, and SSERVI continues to strengthen these collaborations,” said Jacob Bleacher, Chief Exploration Scientist within NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. “These new teams bring a wealth of expertise that will help us better understand the lunar environment and prepare for human and robotic lunar exploration so we can maximize the science return of Artemis.”

Purdue University’s footprint on this team selection is certain to produce our next giant leaps on the surface of the Moon.  Learn more about the teams represented by Purdue EAPS below.


The LunaSCOPE team will investigate the evolution, fate, and consequences of the lunar magma ocean, as well as the origin, abundance, distribution and isotopic composition of volatiles. Three Co-Investigators from the team are Alexandria Johnson, Brandon Johnson and David Minton.

Alexandria Johnson’s research will focus on the ancient atmospheric conditions of the Moon.

“The Johnson Cloud Lab is using lab-based techniques to investigate the role clouds may have played in the transient Lunar atmosphere, proposed to have formed three billion years ago through volcanic eruptions and outgassing and to have persisted for 70 million years,” says Alexandria Johnson. “We're currently conducting laboratory-based measurements on the bulk freezing properties of lunar dust analogs to better understanding cloud formation conditions. With LunaSCOPE we will be expanding this work to include single particle depositional freezing studies of water and other substances, equilibrium chemistry modeling of the atmosphere, and applying our findings to volatile cycling on the moon.”

Joining Alexandria Johnson on this research is Mariana Aguilar, a dual major in Planetary Science and Chemistry. Aguilar has been working towards understanding the immersion freezing properties of Lunar dust analogs in the laboratory. Under SSERVI, she will continue this work and has a unique background well suited for equilibrium chemistry work.

David Minton and Brandon Johnson will focus their research on the evolution of craters on the surface of the Moon. 

My group works with a piece of software called the Cratered Terrain Evolution Model,” says Minton. “It was originally designed to simulate the appearance of cratered surfaces, but over the years we have added the capability of tracking the composition of materials that are created, transported, destroyed, and mixed by impact cratering over billions of years of bombardment. For this proposal, I’ll be teaming up with Brandon Johnson to improve the way this compositional information is modeled by using high fidelity models of individual craters using a different kind of software, and then taking what we learn and applying it to the software that can model millions of craters over the lifetime of the solar system. One of the reasons why this is important to do is because if we can better understand how impacts alter the composition of surfaces like the Moon, then we will be able to interpret the samples of the Moon brought back from the Apollo missions to unlock what they tell us about the ancient history of the solar system. We may also be able to use our software as a tool to help plan future missions to the Moon, like Artemis, and find the best landing sites for collecting samples.”

Minton and Brandon Johnson will be joined by Dennise Valadez (working with Minton) and a graduate student (working with Johnson).


The CLOE team will investigate important questions related to the understanding of solar system origin and the conditions of Earth-Moon formation. Brandon Johnson will serve as a Co-Investigator on this SSERVI team.

According to Johnson, there are three themes to this team which have been selected to form a better understanding of terrestrial planet formation and early lunar bombardment, revealing the conditions of Earth-Moon origin and exploring South Pole-Aitken basin to constrain Solar System origin and early bombardment.

“With CLOE, I am working on better understanding the Moon's bombardment history and simulating the formation of the South Pole Aitken basin, the Moon's largest and oldest preserved impact basin,” says Johnson.

Joining Johnson on this team will be Dr. Shigeru Wakita.



The RASSLE team will lay the science foundation for the future of lunar exploration by working to better understand the evolution of volatiles in lunar polar regions, solar system chronology, and cryogenic sample handling.  Michelle Thompson will serve as a Co-Investigator on this SSERVI team.

According to Thompson, the RASSLE team, led by Dr. Dana Hurley at Johns Hopkins University, will develop protocols and capabilities for cryogenic sample analysis and will investigate how cryogenic samples evolve during preparation, handling, and measurement. RASSLE will also investigate how volatiles evolve during impacts into icy regolith to better constrain the efficiency of volatile retention and the extent of redistribution occurring within permanently shadowed regions.

A graduate student and I will be exploring how to best analyze volatiles like water in lunar sample analogs,” explains Thompson. “This will help us prepare for the handling and analysis of samples from the NASA Artemis missions.”

Thompson will have a new graduate student working with her on her RASSLE research.  This student will start at Purdue in Fall 2024.


About the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University

The Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) combines four of Purdue’s most interdisciplinary programs: Geology & Geophysics, Environmental Sciences, Atmospheric Sciences, and Planetary Sciences. EAPS conducts world-class research, educates undergraduate and graduate students, and provides our college, university, state and country with the information necessary to understand the world and universe around us. Our research is globally recognized, our students are highly valued by graduate schools, employers, and our alumni continue to make significant contributions in academia, industry, and federal and state government.




Writer and graphics: Cheryl Pierce, Communications Specialist

Contributors: Alexandria Johnson, Assistant Professor; Brandon Johnson, Associate Professor; David Minton, Associate Professor; Michelle Thompson, Associate Professor

Photos of professors: Purdue Marketing and Media

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