Jenelle Hansen

Jenelle was born and raised in Southern California. It was incredibly expensive to live there, so she moved around a little bit as an adult, trying to find both affordable housing and satisfying employment. She returned to school in Tucumcari, NM and transferred to NMSU to pursue a BS in geology. She is a senior this year. In the future, she plans to pursue a PhD in something related to geochemistry – possibly continuing the development of geological research with LIBS. In addition to learning, she enjoys drinking coffee, writing, drawing, and fixing her truck. She is very grateful for the education that she is receiving, and for the support she receives from her mentor, Dr. McMillan.


Project Description:

When rocks located at high elevation erode over time, the sediment travels down-stream via rivers and other water ways to the points of lowest elevation. Minerals mixed in with the sand found in these basins can provide information about the original rocks from which they came. Tourmaline is a resilient, chemically complex mineral, which records the chemical signature of the environments in which they formed. Tourmaline grains have been collected for analysis from the Transantarctic Mountain Range from several layers of sandstone, which represent the greater part of the late Precambrian, Cambrian and early Ordovician periods. Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) analysis can capture the chemical signatures within these detrital tourmaline, and multivariate data analysis and a matching algorithm allows us to compare similarities and differences in these chemical signatures from sample set to sample set. The detrital tourmaline samples collected for this study, representing the late Precambrian period, will be analyzed and compared to detrital tourmaline, from the Cambrian and early Ordovician periods, which were analyzed in a previous study, in order to further understand how the source-rocks for these sandstone samples changed over time.



  • Project description, timeline, and milestones developed with mentor; on file with DSP
  • Complete half of project milestones
  • Complete project
  • Present scholarly work at conference, exhibition, recital, film festival, reading, etc.
  • Take the GRE
  • Attend a professional conference (without presenting)
  • Promote #DiscoveryScholars ten times on social media
  • Apply for graduate or professional school

Completed benchmarks listed in italics


Jenelle’s mentor: Dr. Nancy McMillan:

Nancy McMillan’s research focuses on applications of Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). LIBS is a relatively new technique and was adopted by NASA to analyze rocks on Mars on the Curisoty rover and the Mars 2020 rover. LIBS is interesting because each analysis contains a staggering amount of information on the concentrations of every element, isotopic ratios, and the structure of the material. McMillan has applied LIBS to a wide range of projects: quality control of highway aggregates, provenance of gems and other earth materials, correlation of geologic units, corrosion of steel bridges, and coal. LIBS research is interesting because its applications are in their infancies and there is often not a clear path forward……science in action!