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

 

 

Scientific Area: 
Project(s): 

Explore Carnegie Science

Vera Rubin at Lowell Observatory, courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science.
July 23, 2021

A Statement From Carnegie President Eric Isaacs:

As we commemorate the extraordinary life of Vera Rubin—who forever altered how we understand the universe—on what would have been her 93rd birthday, I keep coming back to a legendary moment in her transformative career and what it can teach us about our present moment.

When she joined Carnegie, she had to battle for access to the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory. She was told “your time on the observatory is limited, because we don’t have a women’s bathroom.”

So, as the story has been told, as I’ve heard it, she solved the problem pretty simply by cutting out a little

The scope of Earth and Planets Laboratory science courtesy of Katherine Cain.
July 7, 2021

Carnegie’s Earth and Planets Laboratory welcomes two new staff scientists whose expertise spans from terrestrial planet interiors to the atmospheres of distant worlds.

Anne Pommier arrived this month 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. Peter Gao will join in September from U.C. Santa Cruz, where he studies the chemistry occurring in the atmospheres of Venus, Mars, Pluto, Saturn’s moon Titan, as well as exoplanets.

Pommier’s experimental petrology and mineral

June 29, 2021

Washington, DC—Carnegie’s Anat Shahar is the lead investigator on an interdisciplinary, multi-institution research team that this spring was awarded nearly $1.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to understand the chemical makeup of our galaxy’s most common planets with a goal of developing a framework for detecting chemical signatures of life on distant worlds.  

Since the first planet orbiting a Sun-like star beyond our Solar System was discovered in the mid-1990s, astronomers have revealed that the Milky Way is teeming with planets. To search for evidence of life on these thousands of other worlds, researchers are on the hunt for chemical markers

Carnegie mineralogist Robert Hazen
May 28, 2021

Washington, DC—Carnegie Mineralogist Robert Hazen—who advanced the concept that Earth’s geology was shaped by the rise and sustenance of life—will be honored with the 2022 International Mineralogical Association’s Medal for Excellence. The prize recognizes “outstanding scientific publication in the field of mineralogical sciences.”

The medal was created to honor a lifetime of achievement in and outstanding contributions to the fields of mineralogy, geochemistry, petrology, crystallography, and applied mineralogy.  Hazen will be its 11th recipient.

A Staff Scientist at Carnegie’s Earth and Planets Laboratory, Hazen

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.

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.

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

Phillip Cleves’ Ph.D. research was on determining the genetic changes that drive morphological evolution. He used the emerging model organism, the stickleback fish, to map genetic changes that control skeletal evolution. Using new genetic mapping and reverse genetic tools developed during his Ph.D., Cleves identified regulatory changes in a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 that were responsible for an evolved increase in tooth number in stickleback. This work illustrated how molecular changes can generate morphological novelty in vertebrates.

Cleves returned to his passion for coral research in his postdoctoral work in John Pringles’ lab at Stanford

Brittany Belin joined the Department of Embryology staff in August 2020. Her Ph.D. research involved developing new tools for in vivo imaging of actin in cell nuclei. Actin is a major structural element in eukaryotic cells—cells with a nucleus and organelles —forming contractile polymers that drive muscle contraction, the migration of immune cells to  infection sites, and the movement of signals from one part of a cell to another. Using the tools developed in her Ph.D., Belin discovered a new role for actin in aiding the repair of DNA breaks in human cells caused by carcinogens, UV light, and other mutagens.

Belin changed course for her postdoctoral work, in

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