Cool Science Jobs in Chicago – studying meteorites at The Field Museum
The Field Museum in Chicago employs scientists to study every era of natural history. These scientists are studying cool things such as:
- Animals and plants from our current natural environment
- Wardrobes and diets of people from the Ancient Americas over the past 13,000 years
- Dinosaur fossils from 70 million years ago
- Rocks from the birth of our solar system, 4.568 billion years ago. That’s 4,568,000,000 years!
Join me as I explore the cool job of a scientist who works in a laboratory that houses the cleanest AND most dangerous rooms in The Field Museum (which are right next to each other), wears white clogs, and when a rock falls from the sky, the Chicago press calls him first.
He’s Philipp Heck, PhD–a Swiss cosmochemist and the Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator for Meteoritics and Polar Studies, in the department of Geology at The Field Museum. I know, that’s a mouth full, basically he’s an expert on meteorites. He considers himself a “Historian of Nature” and has a passion for pre-solar grains, which are rock particles that existed more than 4.568 billion years ago. His cool job as a scientist helps humans understand the birth of our solar system. Studying meteorites provides him the knowledge to answer questions such as:
- How were Venus, Saturn, & Planet Earth created?
- What materials are planets made of?
As a cosmochemist, Dr. Heck is not usually the person collecting meteorites. As he states, “They are collected by specialized field parties such as the US Antarctic Meteorite Program ANSMET, by spacecraft, by high-flying airplanes, or by meteorite hunters (above)–usually non-scientists who make a living by collecting and selling meteorites–and sometimes also collected by amateurs.”
Science experiments begin once a meteorite lands in his lab. Dr. Heck utilizes polishing skills (studying meteorites requires extremely smooth surfaces), sophisticated computer programs to analyze the smooth surface, and lots of patience–a skill required by all scientists–to create knowledge about our solar system.
Being patient is tough, but it pays off. Dr. Heck travels around the world (~12 countries) to attend conferences, use specialized equipment in other labs, and give seminar talks. His job allows him to experience the extraordinary feeling of touching rocks that have flown through space for millions of years. He is also involved in selecting names for meteorites; most recently a meteorite that fell in April 2010 close to Chicago, in SW Wisconsin. It is called Mifflin and can be seen with your own eyes on the Upper Level of The Field Museum. Did you know meteorites are named after distinct and ideally unambiguous geographical features where they land?
Like all scientists at The Field Museum, Philipp Heck, PhD enjoys training graduate students. If you are interested in chemistry, geology, physics, or material science, apply to be a Scientific Volunteer or for a Science Internship. You too can experience the extraordinary feeling of touching rocks that have flown through space for millions of years as you organize them in the collections room. →
And don’t forget about the cool, white clogs you’ll get to wear. Any questions?
Thank you Philipp for welcoming me into your lab. Your job rocks! (pun intended) The Field Museum is a wonderful place to volunteer, be employed, or visit. They promote a culture of education, discovery, and fun! Thank you for reading about this cool science job in Chicago. Remember, use science to find happiness in your life, and always…letUbeU.