Undergraduate Minors Michelle Burr and Bennett Skinner

Undergraduate Minors Michelle Burr and Bennett Skinner

The Department of Planetary Sciences wrapped up the academic year with a count of 23 undergraduate minors in Planetary Sciences and 29 in Astrobiology. On April 28, LPL hosted a lunch for graduating seniors. Congratulations to graduating ASB minors Michelle Burr and Brooke Carruthers and to PTYS minors: Jared Bartunek, Morgan Cryder, Charlie Goldberg, Nicole Kerrison, Melissa Kontogiannis, Kevin May, and Bennett Skinner


Michelle Burr

Michelle majored in Cellular and Molecular Biology, minoring in Astrobiology for the opportunity to work with LPL scientists with HiRISE, OSIRIS-REx and NIRCam. She has been accepted into the Arizona Biological Biomedical doctoral program for fall 2022 and plans to earn a Ph.D. in Cellular Molecular Medicine. Her career goals include working for NASA on radiation and nucleic acid research.

Michelle cites two courses from the ASB minor program as particular favorites. She says that being able to learn from Regents Professor Alfred McEwen, Principal Investigator for HiRISE and instructor for PTYS 442 (Mars) was a "once in a lifetime experience." One of the assignments required her to provide a scientific rational for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to use HiRISE to take a high-resolution image of her assigned Martian surface coordinates. The result was a one-of-a-kind framed high-resolution image of the Martian surface that hangs now in her room.

Professor Ilaria Pascucci's ASTR 450 (Origin of the Solar System and Other Planetary Systems) class was also a favorite. Michelle says, "This class was one of the most difficult classes I took in the minor, but...it made everything finally click for the formation of our solar system....I was able to link birth sites of planets and their formation with our solar system, and that was extraordinary."

Michelle is currently studying the effects of ionizing radiation on a species of the common house mosquito, a project she began at Pima Community College while in their ASCEND program. After transferring to UArizona, Michelle joined SEDS/ASCEND team and continued perfecting a model that allows mosquitos to enter near space and become introduced to ionizing radiation; she then analyzes their post-orbit DNA anomalies and protein disparities. In the course of this research, Michelle began volunteering with Dr. Julie Ledford (Cellular and Molecular Medicine) on research with asthma and airway diseases, specifically on a novel menopausal asthmatic model to understand the molecular pathways involved in onset of uncontrolled asthma post-menopausally.

Michelle enjoys hiking and rock climbing and takes advantage of Arizona dark skies for stargazing.


Bennett Neil Skinner

Bennett graduated with a major in Astronomy and Physics and minors in Computer Science and Mathematics in addition to Planetary Science. He will pursue an M.Sc. in Physics and Astronomy with collaborative work in Astrobiology at McMaster University beginning this fall and hopes to move into a Ph.D. program and an academic career in astronomy.

As an undergraduate, Bennett's favorite course was PTYS 450 (Origin of the Solar System and Other Planetary Systems), taught by Professor Ilaria Pascucci. The course inspired him to push his knowledge beyond the classroom, resulting in an honors thesis that looked at CI emission from protoplanetary disks using the Atacama Compact Array as a check on previous studies reporting CO depletion. Bennett writes, "We detected CI in half our sample, the highest rate of any protoplanetary disk CI survey thus far, nearly doubling the total number of CI detections. We found that CI fluxes are consistent with protoplanetary disk models assuming an ISM-like gas:dust ratio of 100, implying that CO is not depleted in the disk. We also found that CI flux correlates with CO isotopologue fluxes that trace the upper layers of the disk, showing that CI traces the upper layers of the disk where CO dissociates but CI has not yet ionized." Results of the project have been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal for publication. Before starting graduate school, Bennett will work on a project using disk wind data from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Bennett has wide-ranging hobbies, with particular interests in history, politics, geopolitics, and biology. He tries to track every major election in the world, make predictions, and watch the results as they roll in. He enjoys museums, hiking, and documentaries and is a fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genres, as well as video games.