Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The objective of this thesis is to describe the correlated study of individual presolar grains via Nano-scale Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (NanoSIMS), Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), and Scanning Transmission X-ray Microscopy (STXM) utilizing X-ray Absorption Near Edge Structure (XANES), with a focus on connecting these correlated laboratory studies to astrophysical phenomena. The correlated isotopic, chemical, and microstructural studies of individual presolar grains provide the most detailed description of their formation environments, and help to inform astrophysical models and observations of stellar objects.

As a part of this thesis I have developed and improved upon laboratory techniques for micromanipulating presolar grains and embedding them in resin for ultramicrotomy after NanoSIMS analyses and prior to TEM characterization. The new methods have yielded a 100% success rate and allow for the specific correlation of microstructural and isotopic properties of individual grains. Knowing these properties allows for inferences to be made regarding the condensation sequences and the origins of the stellar material that condensed to form these grains.

NanoSIMS studies of ultramicrotomed sections of presolar graphite grains have revealed complex isotopic heterogeneities that appear to be primary products of the grains' formation environments and not secondary processing during the grains' lifetimes. Correlated excesses in 15N and 18O were identified as being carried by TiC subgrains within presolar graphite grains from supernovae (SNe). These spatially-correlated isotopic anomalies pinpoint the origin of the material that formed these grains: the inner He/C zone. Complex microstructures and isotopic heterogeneities also provide evidence for mixing in globular SN ejecta, which is corroborated by models and telescopic observations. In addition to these significant isotopic discoveries, I have also observed the first reported nanocrystalline core surrounded by turbostratic graphite within a low-density SN graphite grain. Nanocrystalline cores consisting of randomly-oriented 2-4 nm sheets of graphene and surrounded by concentric shells of graphite have been observed in high-density presolar graphite grains from Asymptotic Giant Branch stars, whose grains are typically microstructurally distinct from SN graphite grains. These vastly different stellar environments briefly formed similar nanocrystalline structures before diverging in the structure of their mantling graphite to be typical of AGB and SN grains.

While relatively few correlated NanoSIMS and TEM studies have been performed previously, which this research thesis aims to expand, my collaborators and I also endeavored to add a third correlated technique, STXM/XANES, which had previously not been applied to presolar grains. XANES allows for the investigation of molecular bonds, which we used to help infer physical and chemical properties of stellar ejecta. I investigated the C K-edge and Ti L-edge of molecular bonds in both presolar graphite grains and their TiC subgrains. The presolar graphite grains, while overwhelmingly composed of aromatic C molecules, host a wide variety of minor organic molecules. Considering the large isotopic anomalies in the grains, these minor components are not likely due to contamination. I also investigated the valence state of Ti in Ti-rich subgrains and plan to work towards illuminating the effect that V in solid solution has upon the TiC bonds.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Thomas J. Bernatowicz

Committee Members

Ramanath Cowsik, Martin H. Israel, Bradley L. Jolliff, Larry R. Nittler


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