LPI Welcomes New Postdoctoral Fellow Thomas Barrett

May 12, 2022

Tom working on complicated machinery

Tom with the NanoSIMS 50L at the Open University, UK. This type of instrument is key to much of his research.

Recently, LPI welcomed a new postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Tom Barrett. Dr. Barrett’s main research focus is isotope geochemistry, particularly volatiles (source(s), amounts) and their evolution in the inner solar system. At LPI Dr. Barrett works with Dr. David Kring to analyze a range of terrestrial and extraterrestrial samples, with a specific focus on lunar samples, with a goal to further constrain our understanding of the different volatile reservoirs active in early solar system history and their evolution.

Read LPI’s interview with Dr. Barrett to learn more.

Dr. Barrett in front of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft

Tom helping at the Royal Society Summer of Science Exhibition, June 2018.

LPI: How did you become interested in planetary science?
TB: I know it might sound cheesy, but I think that I have always been interested in space. I have always loved Sci-Fi books and TV, and I loved exploring when I was younger. Where else is as big of an adventure as space? You look up at it and it’s full of unknowns waiting to be discovered! I enjoyed science at school (math, physics, and geography are my A levels), but was always extra engaged when it came to learning about space topics.

LPI: When did you know that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
TB: This is a tough one. I don’t think there has ever really been a moment that crystallized my passion into a “this is what I want to do for a job.” I think it has always just been there. I enjoyed doing experiments at school, discussing how things worked and what they meant, and trying to explain to others new ideas and concepts. It has just always seemed natural to me that I would end up doing research. I have not really considered anything else!

LPI: Did you have a mentor or another person in your life who was influential to your decision or career?
TB: My dad used to teach land law at a university and was deputy head of school, so there has always been a strong educational focus in my family. He has spoken to me on many occasions about how after a lecture, he would go to his office and there would be a knock at the door from a student.

“Thanks for the lecture, I did some reading and there is this particular case that seems to be different. Can you explain how it all fits together?”

My dad would sit down, get them both a cup of tea, and they would go over the topic. When it was done, both people would usually come away having learned something. Dad, a new piece of case law he hadn’t seen before, which he could use for further teaching, and the student, a better understanding of the topic as a whole. Hearing these stories made me want to pursue this career. Couple this with some natural curiosity, research and teaching felt like natural companions!

Tom Barrett in the Arizona desert

Tom inside a Cinder Cone near Flagstaff, Arizona as part of the Lunar Exploration Field Training and Research Course, May 2022.

LPI: What is the focus of your research?
TB: My work focuses on looking at volatile elements (e.g., H, C, N, and Cl) as these elements can have a profound effect not only on the evolution of a rock (adding water to a magma lowers its viscosity and makes it runnier), but the timing and delivery of these elements can also hold the keys to understanding more about life on Earth. Understanding these elements in a wide range of samples can provide a wealth of information about the evolution of the solar system.

LPI: What is the most unexpected or exciting result that you’ve encountered in your research?
TB: Again, cheesy answer, but all results are exciting! Just knowing that you are the first person in the world to ever see that particular result and that your next data point could lead to a totally new idea is thrilling! But to give a proper answer, I had one sample Dar al Gani 945 that gave some unexpectedly high Cl isotope compositions. This required me to consider a different type of process for this sample than the rest of my meteorite samples (which were all similar and much lower) and is part of my 2019 paper on the subject.

Tom Barrett playing a bass guitar

Tom playing bass as part of the Department of Physical Sciences (DPS) house band, August 2018.

LPI: What do you most look forward to as it relates to planetary science over the next 10 years?

TB: This would have to be the NASA Artemis program. Who couldn’t get excited about seeing people land on the Moon again? Especially when you know that you may even have the tiniest chance of being able to study the samples they bring back!

LPI: What would be your dream research trip?
TB: Asteroid 4 Vesta, hands down. It’s the asteroid my PhD samples are believed to have come from, and it would be amazing to see the place up close and get a better idea of the geological context. That’s not to say I’d pass up a trip to the Moon, but I’d probably be the first person on Vesta if I got my field trip! If I had to pick a place closer to home, I have already been lucky enough to go to the San Francisco Volcanic Field, specifically the Cinder Lakes Crater Field, which was used by NASA to recreate a small part of the Apollo 11 landing site for astronaut training. They even used carefully calibrated amounts of explosives to blast craters into the surface! I’d also love to go to Antarctica to hunt for meteorites with the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET).

Tom practicing martial arts

Tom halfway through demonstrating a technique at the University of Birmingham (UK) Ninjutsu Dojo, circa 2013.

LPI: Do you have a favorite hobby or interest outside of work?
TB: I am an avid martial artist. I have a third dan black belt in two different martial arts: Wado-Ryu Karate and Ninjutsu. While the pandemic and moving country have stalled my training, I do intend to start these back up, and I actually started Iaido after arriving in the States. I also enjoy role-playing games and have managed to continue a long-term Dungeons & Dragons game with a six-hour time difference! Other hobbies include video games, rock climbing, and I recently started running. If I had enough space in my bags to bring my bass guitar over from the UK with me as well, I would have. I also like to cook, bake, and I make a mean cocktail!

Get the solar system in your inbox.

Sign up for LPI's email newsletters