What sets George Cody apart from other geochemists is his pioneering use of sophisticated techniques such as enormous facilities for synchrotron radiation, and sample analysis with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to characterize hydrocarbons. Today, Cody  applies these techniques to analyzing the organic processes that alter sediments as they mature into rock inside the Earth and the molecular structure of extraterrestrial organics.

Wondering about where we came from has occupied the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. Using samples from comets and meteorites, George Cody tracks the element carbon as it moves from the interstellar medium, through Solar System formation, ultimately to the origin of life.

Primitive meteorites, interplanetary dust particles, and comets are remnants of the early Solar System. The abundant organic matter contained in these primitive bodies records a long chemical history, beginning with reactions that occurred in the interstellar medium, and continuing with reactions that occurred during the formation and evolution of the early solar nebula, and in the formation and evolution of the parent bodies of meteorites. To untangling this record is a challenge: the vast majority of the organic carbon exists as an extremely complex polymer—large molecules with repeating units—that is insoluble by most means.

Cody and colleagues pioneered procedures applying solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to get around the insolubility problem. NMR spectroscopy reveals molecular information when nuclei of certain atoms are placed in an enormous magnetic field and then resonantly excited with radio-frequency pulses. The emission signal from the excited nuclei yield a spectral “fingerprint” characteristic of the electronic structure of the host molecule.

Cody also employs Carbon X-ray Absorption Edge Structure spectroscopy, which is essential to the analysis of comet particles. Results from both methods ultimately provide essential clues regarding the origin of extraterrestrial organic carbon and the history of chemical processing as the molecular cloud coalesced into the Solar System.

The retention of carbon in the inner Earth is a prerequisite to the origin of the global carbon cycle. Cody with colleagues have conducted NMR-based experiments that reveal how some carbon was retained even during the magma-ocean phase of Earth history. Such carbon may have been essential for the emergence of life.

The transition from a chemical world to a biological one remains a profound mystery. One promising area of this research is to investigate Earth’s natural catalysts and the environments in which they are found. Cody and colleagues study catalytic properties of so-called transition metal minerals that are abundant in deep-sea ore-bodies to help piece together the puzzle of life’s origins.                   

Cody received his B.S. from University of Massachusetts in geology in 1982. He then taught and conducted research there for two years. In then he joined Exxon Research and Engineering and studied the chemical structure of coal, work that inspired his Ph.D. thesis at Pennsylvania State University. After receiving his Ph. D., Cody was an Enrico Fermi Scholar at the Argonne National Laboratory. He joined Carnegie in 1995 and was acting director of the Geophysical Laboratory from 2013 until April 2018. He is principal investigator in charge of W. M. Keck Solid State NMR Laboratory and principal investigator of the Carnegie's NASA Astrobiology Institute. For more information see here

 

 

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Louis and Lore Brown at an annual Carnegie celebration
September 22, 2022

Washington, DC—The estate of the late Carnegie physicist and historian Louis Brown, who died in 2004, and his wife Lore, who died late last year, included a bequest of $4.5 million to support research about the Solar System’s formation and evolution, as well as the planet’s dynamic interior processes.

Lou Brown joined Carnegie in 1961 and, for the next 15 years, headed up the nuclear physics program at the Institution’s former Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, which is now part of our Earth and Planets Laboratory.

Eventually, his work shifted to instrumentation for isotope geology. He was involved with designing and constructing several

Michael Walter
September 7, 2022

Washington, DC—Earth and Planets Laboratory Director Michael Walter, an experimental petrologist who studies deep-Earth minerals and melts to elucidate the formation and evolution of our planet’s dynamic interior, will be honored with the American Geophysical Union’s Normal L. Bowen Award at the organization’s annual Fall Meeting in December.

The Bowen prize is the top recognition for a scientist in AGU’s Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology section. It presented each year to an individual who has made “outstanding contributions” to the field, either in the form of a single, groundbreaking paper, or a cumulative set of advancements over

An artist’s conception of WASP-39 b, courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, and J. Olmsted
August 24, 2022

Washington, DC—The James Webb Space Telescope has captured the first clear, detailed, indisputable evidence for atmospheric carbon dioxide ever detected on a planet outside the Solar System. The discovery was announced by the mission’s Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team, which includes four Carnegie astronomers—Munazza Alam, Anjali Piette, Peter Gao, and Johanna Teske. It will be published next week in Nature and can be found online here.

As part of the team’s efforts in July and August, JWST observed a gas giant planet, called WASP-39 b, which orbits a Sun-like star 700 light-years from Earth. Their finding offers thrilling

Protoplanetary Disk. M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
August 22, 2022

Washington, DC— A team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Peter Gao has solved one of the biggest outstanding mysteries about the environment in which baby planets are born. Their findings are published by Nature Astronomy.

In their youth, stars are surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust—the raw material from which planets and other celestial objects are born. Over time, this material aggregates to form planets, as well as the parent bodies of asteroids and many meteorites.

In studying these planetary nurseries, astronomers frequently observe carbon monoxide, which is ultra-bright on their instruments, making it a prime target for observers.

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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.

The Anglo-Australian Planet Search (AAPS) is a long-term program being carried out on the 3.9-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) to search for giant planets around more than 240 nearby Sun-like stars. The team, including Carnegie scientists,  uses the "Doppler wobble" technique to search for these otherwise invisible extra-solar planets, and achieve the highest long-term precision demonstrated by any Southern Hemisphere planet search.

Ana Bonaca is Staff Member at Carnegie Observatories. Her specialty is stellar dynamics and her research aims to uncover the structure and evolution of our galaxy, the Milky Way, especially the dark matter halo that surrounds it. In her research, she uses space- and ground-based telescopes to measure the motions of stars, and constructs numerical experiments to discover how dark matter affected them.

She arrived in September 2021 from Harvard University where she held a prestigious Institute for Theory and Computation Fellowship. 

Bonaca studies how the uneven pull of our galaxy’s gravity affects objects called globular clusters—spheres made up of a million

Peter Gao's research interests include planetary atmospheres; exoplanet characterization; planet formation and evolution; atmosphere-surface-interior interactions; astrobiology; habitability; biosignatures; numerical modeling.

His arrival in September 2021 continued Carnegie's longstanding tradition excellence in exoplanet discovery and research, which is crucial as the field prepares for an onslaught of new data about exoplanetary atmospheres when the next generation of telescopes come online.

Gao has been a part of several exploratory teams that investigated sulfuric acid clouds on Venus, methane on Mars, and the atmospheric hazes of Pluto. He also

Anne Pommier's research is dedicated to understanding how terrestrial planets work, especially the role of silicate and metallic melts in planetary interiors, from the scale of volcanic magma reservoirs to core-scale and planetary-scale processes.

She joined Carnegie in July 2021 from U.C. San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she investigated the evolution and structure of planetary interiors, including our own Earth and its Moon, as well as Mars, Mercury, and the moon Ganymede.

Pommier’s experimental petrology and mineral physics work are an excellent addition to Carnegie’s longstanding leadership in lab-based mimicry of the

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation