Earth & Planetary History

This cross-departmental research theme focuses on everything from the evolution of the solar system and planetary bodies down to the metabolic pathways and associated isotopic fractionation of different microbes on Earth. Affiliated faculty address a wide variety of research topics, including, but not limited to, the geological history of Earth and Mars, the co-evolution of life and environment over Earth's history, and linkages between the solid and fluid Earth. In addition, these research groups employ a wide array of techniques to address fundamental research questions, from computational techniques and remote sensing to laboratory experiments and field-based research.  


Research areas currently include low- and high-temperature geochemistry (Feng, Keller, Leavitt, Hicks Pries, Sharma, Slotznick, Strauss), geobiology and paleontology (Leavitt, Peterson, Slotznick, Strauss), geophysics and structural geology (Keller, Meyer, Slotznick, Sonder, Strauss), geoinformatics (Keller), planetary sciences (Palucis, Sharma, Hawley), and sedimentary geology and surface processes (Keller, Meyer, Palucis, Slotznick, Strauss).


Xiahong Feng

  • Hydrochemistry and Solute Transport; Low-Temperature Geochemistry

Bob Hawley

  • Glaciology, Geophysics, and Remote sensing

William Leavitt

  • Geomicrobiology & Microbial Geochemistry

Brenhin Keller

  • Igneous Petrology, Geochronology, and Computational Geoscience

Edward Meyer

  • Earth History and Tectonics

Marisa Palucis

  • Surficial Processes and Geomorphology of Earth and Mars

Mukul Sharma

  • Radiogenic Isotope Geochemistry

Sarah Slotznick 

  • Magnetism, Mineralogy, and Earth History

Leslie Sonder

  • Geodynamics and Modelling

Justin V. Strauss

  • Sedimentary Geology, Tectonics, and Historical Geobiology


Caitlin E. Hicks Pries (BIOL)

  • Terrestrial Carbon Cycle and Soil Biogeochemistry

Kevin Peterson (BIOL)

  • Paleontology, macroevolution, molecular biology


The Department has excellent facilities and instrumentation in this area. Please see detailed information in the links below or in the Labs and Facilities tab.

Geomicrobiology & Microbial Geochemistry Lab
A facility led by Dr. Leavitt for performing laboratory experiments to study microbes from common and extreme environments, stable isotope geochemistry, and biogeochemistry.
Mag Lab
A facility led by Dr. Slotznick for characterizing the composition and magnetism of Earth materials.
Materials Characterization

A multi-user facility maintained by Edward Meyer and Josh Landis.
Mineral Separation Lab
A facility led by Dr. Strauss for mineral separation.
Planetary Data Analysis and Visualization Lab
A facility led by Dr. Palucis for performing analyses of planetary surface processes using advanced computing.
Planetary Surface Dynamics Lab
A facility led by Dr. Palucis for the examination of sediment transport.
Radiogenic Isotope Lab
A facility led by Dr. Sharma for radiogenic isotopes.
Stable Isotope Lab
A facility led by Dr. Feng for stable isotope geochemistry.