Geochemist Steven Shirey is researching how Earth's continents formed. Continent formation spans most of Earth's history, continents were key to the emergence of life, and they contain a majority of Earth’s resources. Continental rocks also retain the geologic record of Earth's ancient geodynamic processes.

Shirey’s past, current, and future studies reflect the diversity of continental rocks, encompassing a range of studies that include rocks formed anywhere from the deep mantle to the surface crust. His work spans a wide range of geologic settings such as volcanic rocks in continental rifts (giant crustal breaks where continents split apart), ancient and present subduction zones (where the tectonic plates slide under one another), the mantle keels to the continents (root-like structures that penetrate to great depths), and rocks from the present oceanic mantle (an analog to pre-continental era of the Hadean to Paleoarchean, 4500 to 3200 million years ago).

Studying continents from the deepest samples led to Shirey’s recent research on diamonds carried to the surface in volcanic eruptions of kimberlite. Diamonds carry mineral “inclusions” which are the deepest, oldest, and most pristine mantle samples known. Diamonds with these inclusions are like tiny time-capsules from about 90-430 miles (150-700 km) deep within the Earth. The included minerals are often in their original condition and their analysis can reveal information on deep mantle mineralogy, the migration of carbon-bearing fluids, and ultimately sub-continental mantle keel formation and mantle geodynamics.

To conduct his work, Shirey uses Carnegie’s extensive chemistry and mass spectrometry labs to analyze the isotopes (different atoms of the same element with differing numbers of neutrons) of naturally occurring radioactive elements. These radioactive decaying elements, critical to his work and the work of all the geochemists at Carnegie, are like atomic clocks and decay at predictable rates. 

Shirey received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.S. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and his Ph.D. in geochemistry from SUNY Stony Brook. Before joining the Carnegie staff in 1985 he was a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie. For more see

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An illustration showing how the orbits of the newly discovered moons (bold) fit into the known orbital groupings of the Jovian moons (not bold). The "oddball" with the proposed name Valetudo orbits in the prograde, but crosses the orbits of the planet's o
July 16, 2018

Washington, DC—Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter have been found—11 “normal” outer moons, and one that they’re calling an “oddball.”  This brings Jupiter’s total number of known moons to a whopping 79—the most of any planet in our Solar System.

A team led by Carnegie’s Scott S. Sheppard first spotted the moons in the spring of 2017 while they were looking for very distant Solar System objects as part of the hunt for a possible massive planet far beyond Pluto.  

In 2014, this same team found the object with the most-distant known orbit in our Solar System and was the first to realize that an unknown massive planet at the fringes of our Solar System, far beyond Pluto, could

June 27, 2018

Washington, DC—A team of scientists including Carnegie’s Michael Ackerson and Bjørn Mysen revealed that granites from Yosemite National Park contain minerals that crystallized at much lower temperatures than previously thought possible. This finding upends scientific understanding of how granites form and what they can teach us about our planet’s geologic history. Their work is published in Nature. 

Granites are igneous rocks comprised predominately of the minerals quartz and feldspar.  They are the link between igneous processes that occur within the Earth and volcanic rocks that solidified on Earth’s surface.

“Granites are the ultimate product of the processes by which

June 13, 2018

Washington, DC—New work from an international team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Jaehan Bae used archival radio telescope data to develop a new method for finding very young extrasolar planets. Their technique successfully confirmed the existence of two previously predicted Jupiter-mass planets around the star HD 163296. Their work is published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Of the thousands of exoplanets discovered by astronomers, only a handful are in their formative years. Finding more baby planets will help astronomers answer the many outstanding questions about planet formation, including the process by which our own Solar System came into existence.


June 7, 2018

Washington, DC— NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered new “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks on Mars, increasing the chances that the record of habitability and potential life could have been preserved on the Red Planet, despite extremely harsh conditions on the surface that can easily break down organic molecules.

“The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space and harsh chemicals that break down organic matter, so finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimeters, from a time when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper,” said

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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 by four years at the University of California,


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 years,

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 disciplinary lines,

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 used to provide a direct

Experimental petrologist Michael Walter became director of the Geophysical Laboratory beginning April 1, 2018. His recent research has focused on the period early in Earth’s history, shortly after the planet accreted from the cloud of gas and dust surrounding our young Sun, when the mantle and the core first separated into distinct layers. Current topics of investigation also include the structure and properties of various compounds under the extreme pressures and temperatures found deep inside the planet, and information about the pressure, temperature, and chemical conditions of the mantle that can be gleaned from mineral impurities preserved inside diamonds.

Walter had been at

Guoyin Shen's research interests lie in the quest to establish and to examine models for explaining and controlling the behavior of materials under extreme conditions. His research activities include investigation of phase transformations and melting lines in molecular solids, oxides and metals; polyamorphism in liquids and amorphous materials; new states of matter and their emergent properties under extreme conditions; and the development of enabling high-pressure synchrotron techniques for advancing compression science. 

He obtained a Ph.D. in mineral physics from Uppsala University, Sweden in 1994 and a B.S. in geochemistry from Zhejiang University, China in 1982. For more

Leopoldo Infante became the director of the Las Campanas Observatory on July 31, 2017.

Since 2009, Infante has been the founder and director of the Centre for Astro-Engineering at the Chilean university. He joined PUC as an assistant professor in 1990 and has been a full professor since 2006. He was one of the creators of PUC’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and served as its director from 2000 to 2006. He also established the Chilean Astronomical Society (SOCHIAS) and served as its president from 2009 to 2010.

Infante received his B.Sc. in physics at PUC. He then acquired a MSc. and Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the University of Victoria in Canada.