Research at the Geophysical Laboratory cuts across traditional disciplines from genetics to theoretical astrophysics. Created in 1905, the Laboratory was established to understand the processes that control the composition and structure of the Earth as it was known at the time, including developing the underlying physics and chemistry and creating the experimental tools required for the task. Over a century later, this core mission has expanded to include the physics, chemistry, and biology of the Earth over the entire range of conditions our planet has experienced since its formation, as well as parallel studies of other planets of this and other solar systems from their surfaces to their cores. This interdisciplinary research is also leading to investigations in diverse areas beyond Earth and planetary science.
Throughout its history, scientists at the Laboratory have developed new techniques for studying the properties of materials and their transformations over a broad range pressures and temperatures. Today, the Laboratory is at the forefront of research on the physics and chemistry of materials at extreme pressures and temperatures, primarily using diamond-anvil cells coupled with first-principles theory. The Laboratory continues to develop scientific instrumentation, including high-pressure technology for use at the national x-ray and neutron facilities that it manages. This work addresses major problems in mineralogy, materials science, chemistry, and condensed-matter physics from ambient to millions of atmospheres of pressure and temperatures from millikelvins to those far greater than the surface of the sun.
Laboratory scientists examine extraterrestrial materials in meteorites and comets to follow the evolution of chemistry in the solar system from molecules simple to complex. Studies of how chemistry evolved under conditions present on the early Earth are leading to an understanding of how the specific molecules eventually required for life were produced. Unique ecologies are investigated to develop detailed models of their biochemical composition and function. Experimental protocols and instrumentation that could be deployed on other planets to search for evidence of past or present life are under development. These methodologies are tested at analog sites on Earth that exhibit the extreme environments of other planets. Recognizing that fundamental research is closely related to the development of outstanding young scholars, the Laboratory conducts a strong program of education and training at the pre-doctoral and post-doctoral levels.