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ASU Center for Meteorite Studies is world’s largest university-based collection.
Public invited to bring in a rock to ASU to see if it's a meteorite Nov. 7.
Iron meteorites are "the core of a small planet," said ASU's Meenakshi Wadhwa.
Meteorites are finds or falls (seen falling). Falls are sexier in science world.
October 28, 2015

Public invited to Earth and Space Exploration Day at ASU to have specimens identified

The breathtaking possibility that they may have found an object that fell to Earth from millions of miles out in space will draw hundreds to the one-day-only meteorite-identification event at Arizona State University’s Earth and Space Exploration Day next month.

The crushing probability that it isn’t will be mollified by the opportunity to view the Meteorite Gallery’s spectacular collection at the annual event on Saturday, Nov. 7.

“Usually one or two turn out to be meteorites,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the Center for Meteorite Studies. “The probability that any one of them is a meteorite is pretty small.”

Her office voicemail states that the center does not identify potential meteorites on a regular basis.

Despite that, “I still get one or two messages every day asking if they can bring one in,” said Wadhwa, who is also a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space ExplorationThe School of Earth and Space Exploration is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences..

The meteorite identification program was suspended five years ago because the center was swamped by requests.

“Most people don’t know what a meteorite is,” said research professor Laurence Garvie, collections manager of the Center for Meteorite Studies. “Not every heavy dark magnetic rock in the desert is a meteorite. It has to be slightly different in a particular kind of way. That’s the thing.”

ASU professor Meenakshi Wadhwa

Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of ASU's
Center for Meteorite Studies, shows
some of the hundreds of small stones
from the Chelyabinsk meteorite that
exploded over Russia on Feb. 15, 2013.

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The desert Southwest is one of the better places to find meteorites because there’s not as much vegetation.

Meteorites fall into two categories: finds and falls. Both are named after where they were found, like Coolidge or Rancho Gomelia or Mayday.

A find is discovered on the ground. A fall is witnessed plummeting to Earth and then retrieved. Falls are much sexier in the meteorite world. The authoritative Meteoritical Bulletin carefully describes the circumstances of the discovery, noting such details as terrified cats and barns full of dust.

Meteorites can be tiny. The center possesses close to a kilogram of the famous Chelyabinsk meteorite, which was recorded by hundreds of cameras as it crashed into the Russian city on Feb. 15, 2013. That meteorite was the size of a Volkswagen bus. Before it shattered in the atmosphere, damaging more than 7,000 buildings and injuring more than 1,500 people, it weighed about 10,000 tons and traveled about 41,000 miles per hour.

“These things are continually hitting the Earth,” Wadhwa said. Fifty to 100 tons hit Earth every day.

Most are dust-size particles. “Meteor showers are not going to drop stuff,” Garvie said.

The center also owns a piece of broken window glass from Chelyabinsk. In the meteorite world, owning a piece of collateral damage as well as the meteorite itself is highly prized.

A meteorite is shown close up.
Meenakshi Wadhwa of the Center for Meteorite Studies displays a piece of the Allende meteorite, found in Mexico in 1969. She said the white sections are made of some of the oldest elements in the universe, dating back 4.56 billion years. The ASU center has about 2,000 different types of meteorites in its 40,000-specimen collection; it is the largest university-based collection in the world.


A 26-pound meteorite fell on Oct. 9, 1992, hitting the trunk of 18-year-old Michelle Knapp’s red 1980 Chevy Malibu in Peekskill, New York. The meteorite was still warm and smelling of sulfur when Knapp went out in the driveway to see what had happened. She sold the car — which she had just bought for $300 — to a meteorite collector’s wife for $10,000 and the meteorite for $69,000. The car has since traveled the world to museums and mineral shows.

Garvie pointed out there is not a black market in meteorites. “That’s a misconception,” he said.

When Wadhwa was curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, a meteorite shower hit the city. People called the police, thinking vandals were throwing rocks at their houses. The police confiscated many of the meteorites. “At the police station they were lined up like suspects,” she said.

Garvie holds out a specimen from Mars that was discovered in Morocco. Martian meteorites are the only materials from other planets ever recovered by humans. The ASU center has about 2,000 different types of meteorites in its 40,000-specimen collection; it’s the world’s largest university-based collection.

“We can learn a lot about planetary processes from them,” Wadhwa said. “That’s the core of a small planet you’re looking at there.”

“Let’s hope we get a meteorite this year,” she added.

Earth and Space Exploration Day

What: This annual event offers special science-related activities for students age 5 and up, families, educators and anyone interested in exploring Earth and space. In addition to the meteorite-identification event, there will be 3-D astronomy shows; special talks on volcanoes, earthquakes and planetary science; and interactive displays in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration. Visitors can also see a replica of the Curiosity Mars rover, explore "A" Mountain (Tempe Butte) on a guided field trip, bring rock samples for Dr. Rock to examine, and much more.

When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7.

Where: Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4) on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Find an interactive campus map here.

Admission: Free. Parking will be free as well.

Details: To register for the event, visit

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October 28, 2015

ASU professor Nancy Cooke focuses on the psychology of technology, such as teamwork with drones

Editor's note: Professors Nancy Cooke and Tom Sugar will be recognized for their work on military matters at Thursday's football game against Oregon, as part of ASU's Salute to Service. Read a profile of Sugar's work on wearable robotics here.

Students who have graduated with a master’s in applied psychology from the Polytechnic School at Arizona State University have gone on to help defend the nation. They teach at military colleges and work with drone pilots.

And occasionally they call or email Nancy Cooke and thank her.

“Excellent.” It's how she described her feelings about the results of her work helping people use technology better. “That’s one of the best compliments we can get; that the program not only gave them a master’s degree, but also practical use in the real world.”

Cooke is a human systems engineer.

“It’s putting humans in the center of technology, designing the technology systems around them, rather than vice versa,” she said. “It has a major psychological impact.”

ASU professor Nancy Cooke

ASU professor
Nancy Cooke works
with students in the
Human Systems
Engineering program.

top photo:
Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Along with veterans and active service members, Cooke will be recognized for her work Thursday when ASU’s football team plays Oregon as part of the university’s Salute to Service celebration.

“The students who have graduated from here ... value their education,” Cooke said. “I have one student now working at Creech Air Force Base (in Nevada) with (drone) pilots … I think our master’s program prepares them well for what they’re going to do, either in the military or the commercial sector.”

Cooke is a professor and program chair of Human Systems Engineering at the Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. As an undergrad at George Mason University in Virginia, she majored in foreign languages but found she enjoyed her introduction to psychology class.

“I also wanted to help people,” Cooke said. She did some peer counseling, but recognized going into clinical work was not for her. “I found it kind of boring,” she said.

She also liked her computer science classes. On a visit to career counseling, she discovered human factors, or engineering psychology as it was called then. It combined technology and computer science to help people use technology better.

“A lot of my work (with drones) has to do with teamwork, and how teams interface with a ground control station,” Cooke said. “I’ve been getting more interested in the psychosocial effects of the people who operate them.”

Human Systems Engineering lab
Students learn to program drone airplanes in the Cognitive Engineering Research on Team Tasks lab on the Polytechnic campus, run by professor Nancy Cooke. Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Cooke runs the Human Systems Engineering program on the Polytechnic campus, where students learn to design technology that works for humans.  Her Cognitive Engineering Research on Team Tasks lab investigates human and team performance in cybersecurity systems, unmanned aerial systems, intelligence analysis, emergency medicine and more — all with the aim of better understanding human behavior and how that intersects with technology.

Her work is funded primarily by the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Army Research Office.

A single drone mission requires almost 200 people working together, according to Creech Air Force Base. They fly seven days a week, 365 days a year, over countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.

“Many people are coming to the realization that we are fighting warfare in a completely different way,” Cooke said. “We’re fighting it remotely, and drones are a part of that. But in many ways there are people who are on the battlefield remotely, but sitting in Langley, Virginia, or the Pentagon or Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. They all remotely fly to the battlefield.

“The question is what kind of effects does that have? Many people have likened flying drones to a video game, but to the operators it’s anything but a video game. It’s very real.”

A pilot flying a manned plane into combat will drop ordnance and get out. They never get to watch their targets for days on end. Drone operators survey a village day in and day out. They begin to learn how many people live in a particular house, how many kids they have, how people are living in the village. They get to learn the patterns of life.

After they fire on a target, they stay over the area, assessing battle damage. A pilot flying a plane almost never sees the effects on the target.

“That can be all too real, in a place they know pretty well,” Cooke said. “It’s not at all like a video game.”

There is post-traumatic stress disorder, but without the support they’d get overseas in a theater of war.

“That’s why I really got into this line of work,” Cooke said. “I wanted to have an impact, to see the results of my research do something good. There’s a lot of problems that can be addressed in national defense, especially with so many incredible changes happening in robotics, remote operations, and censored data exploitation, and it feels good to do something that has an impact.”