Earth scientist Robert Hazen has an unusually rich research portfolio. He is trying to understand the carbon cycle from deep inside the Earth; chemical interactions at crystal-water interfaces; the interactions of organic molecules on mineral surfaces as a possible springboard to life; how life arose from the chemical to the biological world; how life emerges in extreme environments; and the origin and distribution of life in the universe  just to name a few topics. In tandem with this expansive Carnegie work, he is also the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University. He has authored more than 350 articles and 20 books on science, history, and music.

 As principal investigator of the Deep Carbon Observatory, Hazen oversees the primary mission of work to promote the transformational understanding of the chemical and biological roles of carbon in Earth's interior—a program in part supported by the Sloan Foundation.

Astrobiology is the search for the origin, distribution, and future of life in the universe. Hazen and the Carnegie team have explored the hypothesis that hydrothermal systems on planets and moons might have contributed to the formation of organic molecules, and thus the origin of life, and they have looked at the cosmochemistry of carbon, the essential element of life.

In work on mineral-molecule interactions, it turns out that the origin of life’s biochemicals have “handedness,” like left and right handiness in people. Hazen and team believe that these so-called chiral mineral surfaces may have played a significant role in the selection and concentration of molecules necessary for life.

Although minerals are necessary for essential tasks, science has assumed that the mineral species found on Earth today are much the same as they were during Earth’s first 550 million years—the Hadean Eon—when life emerged. Hazen found this not to be true. He compiled a list of every plausible mineral species on the Hadean Earth and concludes that no more than 420 different minerals—about 8 percent of the nearly 5,000 species found on Earth today—would have been present at or near Earth’s surface.

 Field observations of microbes recovered from deep drill cores, deep mines, and the ocean floor, coupled with laboratory investigations, reveal that microbial life can exist at conditions of extreme temperatures (to above 110ºC) and pressures (to > 10,000 atmospheres) previous thought impossible. Hazen is interested in research on microbes at such extreme conditions. He also explores the factors that promote the emergence of complex evolving systems.

Hazen received both has B.S. and  S.M in Earth science from MIT and his Ph. D. from Harvard University ,where he was also a research assistant and teaching fellow. He joined the scientific staff at Carnegie in 1978. For more see http://hazen.gl.ciw.edu/

Scientific Area: 

Explore Carnegie Science

Telica Volcano in Nicaragua, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
August 6, 2019

Washington, DC—Some volcanoes take their time—experiencing protracted, years-long periods of unrest before eventually erupting. This makes it difficult to forecast when they pose a danger to their surrounding areas, but Carnegie’s Diana Roman and Penn State’s Peter LaFemina are trying to change that.

“Dormancy, brief unrest, eruption—this is a familiar pattern for many volcanoes, and for many parents,” joked Roman. “But for some volcanoes the unrest is anything but brief—potentially lasting for decades.”

It turns out that these so-called “persistently restless volcanoes” experience three different

An artist’s illustration courtesy of Carl Sagan Institute/Jack Madden
July 31, 2019

Pasadena, CA— Sometimes there is more to a planetary system than initially meets the eye. 

Ground-based observations following up on the discovery of a small planet by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) revealed two additional planets in the same system, one of which is located far enough from its star to be potentially habitable.  These findings were announced in Astronomy & Astrophysics by an international team that included several Carnegie astronomers and instrumentation specialists.

The newly found exoplanets orbit a star named GJ 357, an M-type dwarf that’s about one-third of the Sun’s mass and located 31

July 15, 2019

A $2.7 million multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional NSF-Frontiers of Earth Science grant has been awarded to a team led by Carnegie’s Lara Wagner to study an active flat slab in Colombia. A flat slab is produced when a tectonic plate descends to depths of about 30 to 60 miles (~50-100 km) then flattens and travels horizontally for hundreds of miles before descending farther into Earth’s mantle. Flat slabs are unlike standard subduction, in which a tectonic plate descends more steeply beneath another plate directly into the Earth. 

Because flat slabs travel horizontally directly beneath the overriding continents for hundreds of miles, they have more extensive

The planet Earth on April 17, 2019, courtesy NOAA/NASA EPIC Team.
June 3, 2019

Washington, DC—The first minerals to form in the universe were nanocrystalline diamonds, which condensed from gases ejected when the first generation of stars exploded. Diamonds that crystallize under the extreme pressure and temperature conditions deep inside of Earth are more typically encountered by humanity. What opportunities for knowledge are lost when mineralogists categorize both the cosmic travelers and the denizens of deep Earth as being simply “diamond”?

Could a new classification system that accounts for minerals’ distinct journeys help us better understand mineralogy as a process of universal and planetary evolution?

The current system

No content in this section.

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

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. 

Nick Konidaris is a staff scientist at the Carnegie Observatories and Instrument Lead for the SDSS-V Local Volume Mapper (LVM). He works on a broad range of new optical instrumentation projects in astronomy and remote sensing. Nick's projects range from experimental to large workhorse facilities. On the experimental side, he recently began working on a new development platform for the 40-inch Swope telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory that will be used to explore and understand the explosive universe.

 Nick and his colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology are leveraging the work on Swope to develop a new airborne spectrograph that will be