Campaign Goal: $200 K
$39 K

Alex Patthoff

Inspiring Possibilities that are Out of This World

Although he’s light years away, Alex Patthoff keenly feels the gravitational pull of the planet Saturn. A doctoral student in the Department of Geological Sciences, Alex is studying planetary geomechanics. His focus is on Enceladus, one of the venerable planet’s 62 moons. This particular moon sports a towering plume of ice suggesting, perhaps, the possibility of an ocean beneath its frozen crust. Which makes the moon ripe for conjecture about the prospect of life itself – and eventual exploration. Working with Dr. Simon Kattenhorn, Alex’s research centers on the fracturing of ice in the south polar region of Enceladus. He endeavors to establish the stress history recorded in the fracture sequence. Why? Because the knowledge could provide insights into the tantalizing ice plumes that erupt from the fractures.

With an undergraduate degree in physics, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from West Virginia University, Alex explored the crustal thinning off the northwest coast of Alaska beneath the Herald Arch and Hope Basin in the Chukchi Sea. He also toiled in the Brendeleban Mountains of Alaska, where the drainages divide into the Pacific and the Arctic seas.

From Moscow to Saturn is no small leap. But Alex had a leg up. He began his work at U-Idaho under a grant that Kattenhorn was awarded. Two years later, he received his own grant from NASA, a fellowship for Earth and Space Sciences.“The support from the grant and the tuition are vital to my studies,” he said. “Without them, I likely would not be attending the University of Idaho. I’d have to find my own funding which creates additional stress during a time that is already extremely difficult due to the nature of graduate school. The funding students receive is often used to attend conferences and workshops that are critical to opening doors for them when they graduate.”

Private support is extremely important in obtaining and retaining good graduate students.

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