Year end round up: The top 30 questions at the Earth and Planets Laboratory in 2021

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Wednesday, December 15, 2021 

Throughout 2021, we showcased stories from the six main research areas we explore at the Carnegie Earth and Planets Laboratory campus—from astrophysics to extreme materials—as a part of our “Closer Look” campaign. Each month we highlighted the big questions in the spotlighted research area, explored Carnegie history, updated you on projects, and introduced you to some of the scientists and staff who drive our work forward. 

Below, we have collected all of the top questions that the scientists at the Earth and Planets Laboratory explored during this campaign. While these are certainly some of the main questions we address here on the EPL campus, in many ways they are just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath each question lies Carnegie’s deep history of scientific discovery and seemingly infinite paths of inquiry to explore in the future.

We encourage you to find a question below that interests you and start clicking!

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Star surrounded by protoplanetary disk.jpg
This illustration shows a star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cosmochemistry and Geochemistry

Photographic cross section of a chondritic meteorite containing a calcium-aluminium inclusion
Photograph of a section of a chondritic meteorite.  This type of meteorite is essentially sediment composed of a variety of different mineral grains that came together in the early history of the Solar System.  They are composed of CAIs, but mostly the round objects called chondrules that give this group of meteorites their name. Chondrules are quickly cooled droplets of silicate melt.  Their mechanism of formation is the topic of work by Conel Alexander.

Petrology, Mineralogy, and Mineral Physics

Geophysics and Geodynamics

Lara Wagner stands next to a set of questions hanging at the P-Street office including "What is the source of deep focus earthquakes?"
Lara Wagner points to the question, "What are the mechanisms of deep-focus earthquakes,” as a part of the top 100 questions in science display at the Carnegie Headquarters. Recent collaborative work by EPL scientists has shown that water and other fluids are major components of these mysterious quakes.

Astrobiology and Geobiology

Stained microorganisms collected from deep-sea vents at 2.5 km depth and cultured at high-pressure conditions (250 atm) using innovative high-pressure microbiology techniques developed at the Earth and Planets Laboratory. This was the first time that microorganisms from deep-sea submarine volcanoes have been sampled, transferred, and cultured under such high-pressure and high-temperature conditions. Image courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science and Dionysis Foustoukos.

Extreme Materials

Under extreme conditions of pressure and temperature, the fundamental structures and properties of materials change, often to exotic states not found under normal conditions. Scientists at Carnegie are trying to understand the fundamental rules that dictate chemical bonding, phase transformations, and physical properties under these extreme conditions, often coupled with high strain rates and short time scales. Here we see hydrogen crystallized into a solid at pressures 59,000 times atmospheric pressure. Image courtesy Carnegie Institution for Science and Timothy Strobel.

Over the past year, we set out to show how broad and far-reaching the work of the Earth and Planets Laboratory is, but what we ended up discovering is just how collaborative our work is. Research from one area of study flows into or supports the research of another. Many questions like, “How do we find life on an exoplanet?” or “What causes Earth’s deepest earthquakes?” require scientists from a wide variety of disciplines to put their heads together. This type of work is only made possible by the Carnegie Institution for Science’s investment in building a research environment designed to cultivate free thought, open discussion, and scientific innovation.  

As we look to the future, we can’t wait to see how we answer these questions—and what new questions are out there waiting for us to explore them.  

Want to help us answer these questions? Consider supporting the science at the Earth and Planets Laboratory with a donation. 

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