By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A couple of students from Ursinus College in Montgomery County are literally changing the landscape on Mars — all in the name of science.

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“We’re working on the ChemCam project,” said Ursinus junior Ethan Haldeman. “It’s a device on the Mars Rover that shoots lasers at rocks.”

Haldeman and senior Veronica Sanford are at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where a team is directing NASA’s Curiosity to do their bidding.

“It vaporizes these rocks,” Haldeman said, “and from this we can get data about what was in the rocks.”

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“I’m more on the computer science side of things,” Sanford said. “The amounts of data are enormous, so I make the data easier for the chemists to look at so they can analyze it better.”

Scientists have used ChemCam to fire lasers hundreds of thousands of times, but it was the very first shot that showed the Red Planet was a wet planet. The tool has taught us more about the geology of Mars and is exploring whether life did or could exist.

That college students have a role in all this? ChemCam research scientist and Ursinus alumnus Patrick Gasda says it’s out of this world.

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“It’s a great opportunity to apply this knowledge that you learn in undergrad courses to some real-world problem,” he said.