Letter from the Director | September 2022

While the ‘fish were jumping’ in the Potomac, we had anything but a lazy summertime here at the Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL).
Mike Walter

Although it remains hot and humid in early September in our beloved corner of Washington, D.C., it’s becoming clear that summertime is winding down. Cicada chants are waning,  the occasional yellow-brown leaf flutters by, and some nights there is a whisper of autumn in the air. That deeply embedded ‘back to school’ feeling conjures a sense of new possibilities, helping to shake off the last days of ‘living easy’.

Yet, while the ‘fish were jumping’ in the Potomac, we had anything but a lazy summertime here at the Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL).

Taking to the sky

Throughout the heat of summer, EPL scientists continued to ‘spread their wings and take to the sky’.

Early results from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) provide indisputable evidence of carbon dioxide in an exoplanet atmosphere, while its cousin carbon monoxide had been hiding in plain sight in nebular ice. In our own cosmic neighborhood, material from asteroid Ryugu preserved some of the most primitive and ancient materials in our Solar System. At the same time, it turns out that long enigmatic meteorite chemistry is predictable from shocking nebular hydrodynamic models.

Even closer to home, data analytics reveals the richness of the mineral landscape, with concepts underpinning mineral evolution providing the basis for a revolutionary new way to define mineral ‘kinds’.

Seven interns gained hands-on experience at the cutting edge of science. 

Summer of science for seven interns

Summertime saw the first edition of our new Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURI), and our interns and their mentors were on top of their game.

The seven interns spent ten weeks investigating a fantastic array of projects—from protoplanetary discs to planetary cores to pressure-loving bacteria—all while gaining research experience at the cutting-edge science. 

Thanks to everyone who contributed so much time and energy to the program, especially staff scientist Johanna Teske who developed and ran the inaugural program.

A crew of six and highschool teachers joined EPL and Arizona State University scientists for a hands on field trip to learn what modern geosciences are all about.

Training the trainers

In the spirit of ‘you're gonna rise up singing’, in July, EPL staff scientist Lara Wagner and Carnegie’s Marlena Jones gave six middle and high school teachers hands-on and boots-on-the-ground geoscience training through the outreach portion of the NSF-funded MUSICA project. During the trip, the teachers participated in geological fieldwork and laboratory analysis in order to bring modern research into high school geoscience curricula. 

Cosmochemist Larry Nittler (left) departed after 20 years of interstellar dust busting for a position at Arizona State University, and head of I.T. Michael Acierno retired after 42 years of scientific programming and technological wizardry.

Saying farewell to friends

Over the summertime, we also said farewell to longtime colleagues who left an indelible mark on our campus.

Staff scientist and cosmochemist Larry Nittler departed after 20 years at Carnegie for Arizona State University. Larry and his spouse, longtime Carnegie visiting investigator Rhonda Stroud, took up professorial positions at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, where Rhonda is also Director of the Buseck Center for Meteorite Studies. We wish Larry and Rhonda nothing but the best in their new adventure and look forward to years of scientific collaboration.

And after 42 years, Michael Acierno, scientific programmer and IT specialist (some say wizard), retired at the end of July. During his time at Carnegie, Michael has seen and done it all—witnessing and harnessing a computational revolution and doing so while working with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (and more recently EPL) staff on some of the most audacious science imaginable. Enjoy a well-earned retirement Michael!

Welcoming new faces

As the seasons change, we bring a new crop of postdoctoral fellows to campus—and what a bumper year it is! Join me in welcoming eleven new fellows who come to us from all over the world.   

These outstanding early career scientists bring with them an impressive range of expertise and new ideas in astronomy, cosmochemistry, geochemistry, geophysics, petrology and mineral physics. We are all very excited to have them on campus!

Autumn is a time of harvest, and we look forward to reaping the bounty of a long and fruitful summertime.


Michael Walter
Earth and Planets Laboratory