Planetary Science

The program in planetary science focuses on the origin and evolution of planets with an emphasis on understanding the formation of Earth-like planets in our solar system and in extra-solar systems. The Planetary group combines expertise in geochemical studies of extraterrestrial materials, experiments and modeling of major geophysical processes, and developing geobiological approaches to search for life on other planets. Current research includes exploration of ancient environments on Mars, timescales of planet formation, giant impacts and lunar origin, and the formation of the early terrestrial atmospheres.


Louise Kellogg. The solid Earth is in a continual state of deformation both in the deep interior as well as at its surface. I am interested in both "why" and "how" this deformation occurs. One major component of my research is to use computers calculations to study convection in the deep mantle. This work includes studies of the evolution of mantle plumes, models of thermo-chemical convection near Earth's core-mantle boundary, as well as investigations of mantle stirring and mixing over geologic time. Mantle convection is also important in that it drives plate tectonics, deforms the crust, and generates earthquakes. Deformation of the Earth's surface is the second major area of my research. My graduate students and I have been using the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network in conjunction with numerical models to understand the way the Earth's lithosphere deforms and how faults break.

Alexandra Navrotsky. Research interests have centered about relating microscopic features of structure and bonding to macroscopic thermodynamic behavior in minerals, ceramics, and other complex materials. She has made contributions to mineral thermodynamics; mantle mineralogy and high pressure phase transitions; silicate melt and glass thermodynamics; order-disorder in spinels; framework silicates; and other oxides; ceramic processing; oxide superconductors; and the general problem of structure-energy-property systematics. The main technical area of her laboratory is high temperature reaction calorimetry.

Max Rudolph portrait

Maxwell L. Rudolph
Geophysics, Planetary Science
office: 1133 Earth and Physical Sciences
phone: (530) 752-3669

Maxwell Rudolph. My research involves geological fluid mechanics, broadly defined. Recent and ongoing projects investigate controls on flow and melting in the mantle wedge, global-scale mantle dynamics, and eruptive processes in geysers, mud volcanoes (including the devastating eruption of Lusi in East Java, Indonesia) as analogues to magmatic volcanoes.

John Rundle portrait

John B. Rundle
GeophysicsPlanetary Science; Earth-Surface Processes
office: 2131 Earth and Physical Sciences
phone: (530) 752-6416

John Rundle. My research is concerned with the dynamics of complex systems, for the most part in the geosciences. For over thirty years, my research has focused on using statistical physics to understand the physics of earthquakes and other driven threshold systems. Mathematically, these systems are characterized by phase transitions, both first (nucleation) and second order types. The dynamics of these systems can be understood by the use of field theories developed in other areas of physics, including particle physics and cosmology.

I have a particular interest in the development of methods for earthquake forecasting based on studies of chaos and complexity in driven nonlinear systems, as well as on the use of realistic, large scale numerical simulations. More recently, I have developed an interest in viewing crashes in economic and financial systems as a kind of .Econoquake. that might be understood by analogy to earthquakes and other first order (nucleation) phase transitions.

Sarah Stewart portrait courtesy Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office

Sarah T. Stewart
Planetary Science, Geophysics
office:  2127 Earth and Physical Sciences
phone: (530) 794-8689

Sarah T. Stewart. Planet formation and evolution with focus on collisional processes, including giant impacts and impact cratering. Laboratory measurements of the equation of state and rheological properties of planetary materials using shock wave techniques. Experimental and computational studies of impact processes to interpret the formation, resurfacing history, physical properties, and internal structure of planets and small bodies.

Dawn Sumner. I am a Co-Investigator and Long Term Planner on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, which runs the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater, Mars. My research focuses on developing the regional context of rock and geomorphic units the rover characterizes, stratigraphic models for the rock units, and reconstructing ancient depositional environments. I also work closely with geochemists to understand provenance, chemical sedimentation, diagenesis and weathering of rocks in Gale Crater. I am heavily involved in science planning for the rover as well as daily operations. 

Qing-zhu Yin portrait

Qing-zhu Yin
GeochemistryNEATPlanetary Science
office: 3129 Earth and Physical Sciences
phone: (530) 752-0934

Qing-zhu Yin. Using extinct radioactivity and general isotopic anomalies in the early solar system recorded in primitive meteorites as a tool to study the time scales and site of nucleosynthesis, the time of formation of the solar system and planetary differentiation. Isotope and trace element geochemistry with applications to crust-mantle evolution. Heavy metal stable isotope fractionation in low temperature environments on planetary surfaces or in biological systems using newly emerging high precision mass spectrometry techniques. The development of associated experimental techniques involving high precision mass spectrometry and ultra-clean sample processing in Class-100 clean laboratories for isotope analyses.

Scientists & Academic Federation Members

Dylan Spaulding portrait

Dylan Spaulding
Planetary Science
office: 104 Shockwave Lab
phone: (530) 754-7014

Dylan Spaulding. Planetary formation and evolution. My research includes using static (diamond anvil cell) and dynamic (shock wave compression) to investigate material properties at high pressures and temperatures. In the laboratory, I investigate how materials change under extreme conditions, including the aftermath of large impact events and in the deep interiors of planets. This may include measuring equations of state, phase relations, pressure-induced chemistry and shock-induced changes in samples, all of which seek to constrain the question of how to make a habitable planet.