Our Research / Who We Are

Carnegie investigators are leaders in the fields of plant biology, developmental biology, Earth and planetary sciences, astronomy, and global ecology. The institution has six research departments: the Geophysical Laboratory and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, both located in Washington, D.C.; The Observatories, in Pasadena, California, and Chile; the Department of Plant Biology and the Department of Global Ecology, in Stanford, California; and the Department of Embryology, in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Carnegie Institution’s Six Research Departments:

Department of Embryology, Baltimore, Maryland
The Department of Embryology was founded in 1913 in affiliation with the department of anatomy at The Johns Hopkins University. Until the 1960s its focus was human embryo development. Since then the researchers have addressed fundamental questions in animal development and genetics at the cellular and molecular levels. Some researchers investigate the genetic programming behind cellular processes as cells develop, while others explore the genes that control growth and obesity, stimulate stem cells to become specialized body parts, and perform many other functions.

Geophysical Laboratory, Washington, D.C.
Researchers at the Geophysical Laboratory (GL), founded in 1905, examine the physics and chemistry of Earth’s deep interior. The laboratory is a world-renowned center for petrology—the study of rocks. It is also a world leader in high-pressure and high-temperature physics making significant contributions to both Earth and material sciences. The GL, with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism co-located on the same campus, is additionally a member of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute—an interdisciplinary effort to investigate how life evolved on this planet and determine its potential for existing elsewhere. Among their many projects is one dedicated to examining how common rocks found at high-pressure, high-temperature hydrothermal vents at the ocean bottom may have provided the catalyst for life on this planet.

Department of Global Ecology, Stanford, California
Established in 2002, Global Ecology is the newest Carnegie department in over 80 years. Using innovative approaches, these researchers are picking apart the complicated interactions of Earth’s land, atmosphere, and oceans to understand how global systems operate. With a wide range of powerful tools—from satellites to the instruments of molecular biology—these scientists explore issues such as the global carbon cycle, the role of land and oceanic ecosystems in regulating climate, the interaction of biological diversity with ecosystem function, and much more. These ecologists also play an active role in the public arena, from giving congressional testimony to promoting satellite imagery for the discovery of environmental “hotspots.”

Department of Plant Biology, Stanford, California
The Department of Plant Biology began as a desert laboratory in 1903 to study plants in their natural habitats. Over time the research evolved to the study of photosynthesis. Today, using molecular genetics and related methods, these biologists study the genes responsible for plant responses to light and the genetic controls over various growth and developmental processes including those that enable plants to survive disease and environmental stress. In addition, the department is a world leader in bioinformatics. It developed and now manages an online-integrated database that supplies all aspects of biological information on the most widely used model plant, Arabidopsis.

Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Washington, D.C.
The Department of Terrestrial Magnetism was founded in 1904 to map the geomagnetic field of the Earth. Over the years the research direction shifted, but the historic goal—to understand the Earth and its place in the universe—has remained the same. Today the department is home to an interdisciplinary team of astronomers and astrophysicists, geophysicists and geochemists, cosmochemists and planetary scientists. These Carnegie researchers are discovering planets outside our solar system, determining the age and structure of the universe, and studying the causes of earthquakes and volcanoes. With colleagues from the Geophysical Laboratory, these investigators are also helping to define the new and exciting field of astrobiology.

The Observatories, Pasadena, California, and Las Campanas, Chile
The Observatories were founded in 1904 as the Mount Wilson Observatory. Mount Wilson transformed our notion of the cosmos with the discoveries by Edwin Hubble that the universe is far larger than had been thought and that it is expanding. Carnegie astronomers today study the cosmos with an unusual twist. Unlike most in their field, they design and build their own instruments to capture the secrets of space. They are tracing the evolution of the universe from the spark of the Big Bang through star and galaxy formation, exploring the structure of the universe, and probing the mysteries of dark matter, dark energy, and the ever-accelerating rate at which the universe is expanding.

CASE: Carnegie Academy for Science Education and First Light
In 1989, Maxine Singer, president of Carnegie at that time, founded First Light, a free Saturday science program for middle school students from D.C. public, charter, private, and parochial schools. The program teaches hands-on science, such as constructing and programming robots, investigating pond ecology, and studying the solar system and telescope building. First Light marked the beginning of CASE, the Carnegie Academy for Science Education. Since 1994 CASE has also offered professional development for D.C. teachers in science, mathematics, and technology.


The Carnegie Institution's administrative offices are located at 1530 P St., NW, Washington, D.C., at the corner of 16th and P Streets. The building houses the offices of the president, administration and finance, publications, and advancement.

Andrew Carnegie's 23 Organizations
Beginning in 1895, Andrew Carnegie contributed his vast fortune toward the establishment of 23 organizations that today bear his name and carry on work in such fields as art, education, international affairs, peace, and scientific research.

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