Flagstaff Festival of Science — Meet a Local Scientist: Planetary Scientist Lucas McClure🔭🪐

| January 25, 2022

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Local Science Spotlight: Lucas McClure, Planetary Scientist

Article by Claire Gibson

An emerging star in the field of planetary science, Lucas McClure is a graduate student in the Department of Astronomy and Planetary Science at Northern Arizona University, with a Bachelor of Science in Physics with an astronomy concentration from the University of Tennessee.

Photo by Maggie Hinkston

Lucas is passionate about his research, saying, “I have the ability to chisel away at the perimeter of knowledge that humanity has, and it is cool to know that I am contributing to that!” 

Working under Dr. Joshua Emery at NAU, Lucas studies a specific body of asteroids in the main belt–the collection of over 1 million asteroids in between planets Mars and Jupiter–called the Palona-Eulalia family. By studying the smallest of these asteroids within this family, planetary scientists can also better understand small Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs). Lucas specifically uses spectroscopy to understand the surface characteristics of these asteroids. “NEAs are near and dear to our hearts, near and dear to the planet, and near and dear to destroying the planet.” For Lucas, understanding these asteroids can help us create defensible solutions in the future.

Growing up in a rural part of Tennessee, Lucas didn’t visit art galleries or science centers in his youth, but was captivated with the humanities and sciences, and learned about these fields from his parents through the stories they told. Seeking more of the “truth” as he called it, he says, “Astronomy was the greatest ‘true story’ that I had ever heard.” Eventually, he focused on planetary science and started his own research.

As a graduate student, Lucas finds that instructing students in the classroom is one of the most rewarding parts of his program. He particularly loves engaging with students to problem solve, and empowering others to do science. “Everyone can ‘do’ science, but many people think that they can’t. It’s rewarding to have positive student interactions.”  

Lucas meets people where they are, understanding that not everyone has a science background. When communicating to the public about science, Lucas says, “People don’t always have time to read a body of literature and research on their own.” Connecting people with a field that they may normally distance themselves from, and having an experience with someone as they learn something new, problem solve, and come to their own conclusion are aspects that Lucas truly enjoys. That is after all a part of the scientific method, and everyone can be a scientist!


To read the full interview about Lucas McClure, visit our blog!


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