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Office: Room 280-T, Bldg. 245
Mail: M/S 245-6, Moffett Field, CA 94035
Phone: 650 - 604 - 2737
Fax: 650 - 604- 6779
Email: Ella.M.Sciammaobrien at nasa.gov
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/ella-sciamma-o-brien/11/1b1/107

Ella Sciamma-O’Brien


Ella Sciamma-O’Brien is currently a research scientist with BAERI, working with Dr. Farid Salama in the Astrophysics & Astrochemistry Laboratory group at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Ella received her PhD in experimental plasma physics at the University of Texas at Austin. Her graduate research focused on developing spectroscopic diagnostic tools to determine the electron temperature and neutral density in the plasma produced in the VASIMR (VAriable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) prototype, a plasma propulsion concept for the human missions to Mars.

In December 2008, Ella started a postdoc at the Laboratoire Atmospheres Milieux Observations Spatiales (LATMOS) in France. There, she worked on the PAMPRE experiment, a plasma experiment that simulates Titan’s atmospheric chemistry. The PAMPRE experiment is used to study the complex organic chemistry between the two main constituents of Titan’s atmosphere, N2 and CH4, and to produce solid particles, analogs of Titan’s aerosols, called tholins. Ella worked on different aspects of the PAMPRE experiment, studying the chemical and physical properties of both gas and solid phases using mass spectrometry, IR absorption spectroscopy and spectroscopic ellipsometry.

Since April 2011, Ella has been working on the Titan Haze Simulation (THS) experiment at NASA’s Ames Research Center. The THS experiment has been developed in the last four years by Claire Ricketts and Cesar Contreras, and is based on the Cosmic Simulation Chamber (COSmiC) designed by Dr. Farid Salama. It uses a pulsed discharge nozzle to ionize hydrocarbon- and PAH-seeded gases and generate atomic and molecular ions, neutrals and radicals which are then expanded in a free-jet expansion at temperature and pressure conditions close to Titan’s atmospheric conditions. Two complementary techniques, Cavity Ring Down Spectroscopy and Reflectron Time-Of-Flight Mass Spectrometry are used to study and identify the plasma-produced species. Ella is using the THS experiment with different gas mixtures (N2-CH4, N2-CH4-C2H2, N2-CH4-C6H6, N2-CH4-PAH) to study specific chemical pathways for the formation of complex organic species in Titan’s atmosphere. Her work on the THS experiment will help better understand the observational data returning from the instruments onboard Cassini.

In her spare time, Ella enjoys dancing tango, hiking, running, knitting and reading.

Ella's major publications can be found on the Astrochemistry Laboratory's Publications Pages.