Geochemist and director of Terrestrial Magnetism, Richard Carlson, looks at the diversity of the chemistry of the early solar nebula and the incorporation of that chemistry into the terrestrial planets. He is also interested in questions related to the origin and evolution of Earth’s continental crust.

  Most all of the chemical diversity in the universe comes from the nuclear reactions inside stars, in a process called nucleosynthesis. To answer his questions, Carlson developes novel procedures using instruments called mass spectrometers to make precise measurements of isotopes--atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons--of Chromium (Cr), strontium (Sr), barium ( Ba), neodymium (Nd), samarium (Sm) and hafnium (Hf) to detect the isotopic anomalies, correlate them with the responsible nucleosynthetic processes, and then map their distribution in different types of meteorites and the terrestrial planets.  The work contributes to our understanding of the stellar nucleosynthetic processes that created the elements in the first place.

Carlson also looks at how well mixed the solar nebula was before the start of planet formation, and how compositional differences in the nebula may have influenced the composition of the terrestrial planets.

Another effort is directed at determining the time of Moon formation, the growth of its first crust, and whether Moon formation is recorded in Earth history as would be expected if the Moon formed by ejection of materials into Earth orbit by a giant impact into Earth. 

Carlson is also examining sections of the oldest crust on Earth.  One of these is the Nuvvuagittuq terrane of northern Quebec where work is providing a strong argument that this crustal section formed via convergent margin related volcanic processes at roughly 4.3 billion years.  He is also looking at isotope variation in ancient rocks from both Quebec and Greenland to determine formation processes. 

Other projects include a multidisciplinary examination of the cause of modern volcanism in the Pacific Northwest using a combination of geochemistry and geochronology.  A similar effort is underway in Mongolia.

Carlson received his B.A. in chemistry from UC-San Diego and his Ph. D. in Earth sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Before joining the Carnegie staff in 1981, he was a research and teaching assistant at Scripps and a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie. For more see http://www.dtm.ciw.edu/people/richard-w-carlson

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Artist’s conception of Kepler-432b, courtesy of MarioProtIV/Wikimedia Commons.
December 3, 2019

Pasadena, CA— A surprising analysis of the composition  of gas giant exoplanets and their host stars shows that there isn’t a strong correlation between their compositions when it comes to elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, according to new work led by Carnegie’s Johanna Teske and published in The Astronomical Journal. This finding has important implications for our understanding of the planetary formation process. 

In their youths, stars are surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust from which planets are born. Astronomers have long wondered how much a star’s makeup determines the raw material from which planets are constructed—

Artist's conception by Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Sc
October 16, 2019

Washington, DC— What does a gestating baby planet look like? New research in Nature by a team including Carnegie’s Jaehan Bae investigated the effects of three planets in the process of forming around a young star, revealing the source of their atmospheres.

In their youth, stars are surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust from which planets are born. Studying the behavior of the material that makes up these disks can reveal new details about planet formation, and about the evolution of a planetary system as a whole.

The disk around a young star called HD 163296 is known to include several rings and gaps. Using 3-D visualizations taken by the Atacama Large

Saturn image is courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.
October 7, 2019

Washington, DC—Move over Jupiter; Saturn is the new moon king.

A team led by Carnegie's Scott S. Sheppard has found 20 new moons orbiting Saturn.  This brings the ringed planet’s total number of moons to 82, surpassing Jupiter, which has 79. The discovery was announced Monday by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

Each of the newly discovered moons is about five kilometers, or three miles, in diameter. Seventeen of them orbit the planet backwards, or in a retrograde direction, meaning their movement is opposite of the planet's rotation around its axis. The other three moons orbit in the prograde—the same direction

Simulation of a disk of gas and dust around a young star, courtesy of Alan Boss
September 27, 2019

Washington, DC—There is an as-yet-unseen population of Jupiter-like planets orbiting nearby Sun-like stars, awaiting discovery by future missions like NASA’s WFIRST space telescope, according to new models of gas giant planet formation by Carnegie’s Alan Boss described in an upcoming publication in The Astrophysical Journal.  His models are supported by a new Science paper on the surprising discovery of a gas giant planet orbiting a low-mass star.

“Astronomers have struck a bonanza in searching for and detecting exoplanets of every size and stripe since the first confirmed exoplanet, a hot Jupiter, was discovered in 1995,” Boss explained.

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Established in June of 2016 with a generous gift of $50,000 from Marilyn Fogel and Christopher Swarth, the Marilyn Fogel Endowed Fund for Internships will provide support for “very young budding scientists” who wish to “spend a summer getting their feet wet in research for the very first time.”  The income from this endowed fund will enable high school students and undergraduates to conduct mentored internships at Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory and Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, DC starting in the summer of 2017.

Marilyn Fogel’s thirty-three year career at Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory (1977-2013), followed

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Following Andrew Carnegie’s founding encouragement of liberal discovery-driven research, the Carnegie Institution for Science offers its scientists a new resource for pursuing bold ideas.

Carnegie Science Venture grants are internal awards of up to $100,000 that are intended to foster entirely new directions of research by teams of scientists that ignore departmental boundaries. Up to six adventurous investigations may be funded each year. The period of the award is two

Andrew Steele joins the Rosetta team as a co-investigator working on the COSAC instrument aboard the Philae lander (Fred Goesmann Max Planck Institute - PI). On 12 November 2014 the Philae system will be deployed to land on the comet and begin operations. Before this, several analyses of the comet environment are scheduled from an approximate orbit of 10 km from the comet. The COSAC instrument is a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer that will measure the abundance of volatile gases and organic carbon compounds in the coma and solid samples of the comet.

Carbon plays an unparalleled role in our lives: as the element of life, as the basis of most of society’s energy, as the backbone of most new materials, and as the central focus in efforts to understand Earth’s variable and uncertain climate. Yet in spite of carbon’s importance, scientists remain largely ignorant of the physical, chemical, and biological behavior of many of Earth’s carbon-bearing systems. The Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) is a global research program to transform our understanding of carbon in Earth. At its heart, DCO is a community of scientists, from biologists to physicists, geoscientists to chemists, and many others whose work crosses these

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joined the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in September 2019. He investigates whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change by conducting large-scale ecological and genome sequencing experiments. He also develops computational methods to derive fundamental principles of evolution, such as how fast natural populations acquire new mutations and how past climates shaped continental-scale biodiversity patterns. His goal is to use these first principles and computational approaches to forecast evolutionary outcomes of populations under climate change to anticipate potential future

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments.