Elizabeth Frank
MESSENGER Postdoctoral Associate

Elizabeth Frank

Research Interests

Planetary geology; geochemistry; cosmochemistry; astrobiology


B.S., Interdisciplinary Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2009
Ph.D., Planetary Geochemistry, University of Colorado at Boulder, 2014

Contact & Links

  • (202) 478-8476 | fax: (202) 478-8821
  • efrank at carnegiescience.edu
  • Earth and Planets Laboratory
    Carnegie Institution for Science
    5241 Broad Branch Road, NW
    Washington, DC 20015-1305
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Personal Website


This is a map of Mg/Si on Mercury’s surface based on data from MESSENGER’s X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS). (Red areas are high in magnesium, and blue areas are low.) The large region in red is called the "high-magnesium region" and has an unclear origin. The large blue region on the left side corresponds with Caloris Basin, Mercury’s largest young impact basin. (NASA/APL/CIW)

Elizabeth Frank has diverse interests across the fields of planetary geology, geochemistry, space exploration, and astrobiology. Her Ph.D. research at the University of Colorado at Boulder consisted of two primary projects: (1) studying Eoarchean komatiites for their highly siderophile element signature of late accretion on the early Earth and (2) modeling predictions of radiogenic heating in rocky exoplanets within the solar annulus. She views geochemistry as a tool to explore the geological history of solid planetary bodies.

At DTM, Frank is working with Larry Nittler to analyze geochemical data returned by the X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS) on the MESSENGER spacecraft, which orbited the planet Mercury for 4 years until April 2015. The XRS measured surface abundances of Mg, Al, Si, S, Ca, Ti, and Fe. Maps of these data have revealed a wealth of geochemical information about the planet that has completely changed our understanding of its formation and evolution.

The low-altitude campaign towards the end of the mission provided the highest-resolution geochemical maps of Mercury’s surface to date, and Frank is using the maps to determine the composition of geological scale-features identified in other datasets. She is also exploring emplacement scenarios for the "high-magnesium region,” an enigmatic area on Mercury whose origin remains unclear.