Organizing Committee



Associate professor, Rutgers University

Hans Fischer Fellow, Technical University of Munich

Modern biology increasingly relies on high-throughput techniques. Yana Bromberg’s work utilizes a variety of computational methodologies, including mining of scientific repositories, machine learning methods, and network analysis, to extract as much useful information from these data as possible. In the genomic sense, this primarily implies correlating phenotypic differences with observed nucleotide sequence variations. On the protein side the challenge is to annotate protein function at reasonable accuracy levels. The whole organism level incorporates all types of evidence to annotate evolutionary history and phenotypes. As an overall goal, the Bromberg group is particularly interested in examining the emergent complexity of proteins in microbial ancestors. They are developing new computational methods for linking protein structure to the evolution of function, particularly to redox functionality of metal binding proteins, with the goal of identifying the oldest protein structures and to time the early evolution of folds. The machine-learning tools built for this purpose will also allow identification of trace-element/metal signatures indicative of the various stages of development of life.



Staff Scientist, Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science

Clarence Robinson Professor, George Mason University


Earth scientist Robert Hazen has an unusually rich research portfolio. He is trying to understand the carbon cycle from deep inside the Earth; chemical interactions at crystal-water interfaces; the interactions of organic molecules on mineral surfaces as a possible springboard to life; how life arose from the chemical to the biological world; how life emerges in extreme environments; and the origin and distribution of life in the universe just to name a few topics. In tandem with this expansive Carnegie work, he is also the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University. He has authored more than 400 articles and 25 books on science, history, and music.


As principal investigator of the Deep Carbon Observatory, Hazen oversees the primary mission of work to promote the transformational understanding of the chemical and biological roles of carbon in Earth's interior—a program in part supported by the Sloan Foundation.


In work on mineral-molecule interactions, it turns out that the origin of life’s biochemicals have “handedness,” like left and right handiness in people. Hazen and team believe that these so-called chiral mineral surfaces may have played a significant role in the selection and concentration of molecules necessary for life.


Although minerals are necessary for essential tasks, science has assumed that the mineral species found on Earth today are much the same as they were during Earth’s first 550 million years—the Hadean Eon—when life emerged. Hazen found this not to be true. He compiled a list of every plausible mineral species on the Hadean Earth and concludes that no more than 420 different minerals—about 8 percent of the nearly 5,000 species found on Earth today—would have been present at or near Earth’s surface.



Staff Scientist, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution for Science

Dr. Peter Driscoll’s research interests focus on the thermal and magnetic evolution of the Earth. He has worked on the thermal evolution of Earth’s interior, dynamics of the core, polarity reversals of Earth’s magnetic field, magnetic-limited atmospheric escape, coupled surface-interior volatile cycling, the divergence of Earth and Venus, and the internal dynamics and detectability of terrestrial exoplanets.


Much of Driscoll's research is driven by the questions: what makes the Earth a unique planet? He says Earth is unique in that it is the only planet that has maintained a strong magnetic field, plate tectonics, and surface liquid water over most, and possibly all, of its history. What is it about Earth’s interior that has allowed these complex phenomena to occur? How do they work? Are they connected in any way?


Driscoll will use large-scale numerical simulations to investigate the coupling of the mantle and core, and explore how this coupling is manifested in paleomagnetic and tectonic observations. In particular, he will investigate how the evolution of the geodynamo over the last 500 million years is related to convective cycles in the mantle, the growth of the solid inner core, and changes in rotation. He plans to investigate the process of magnetic polarity reversals by comparing numerical dynamo simulations to geomagnetic observations and to push towards more realistic Earth-like dynamo simulations. He will investigate the dynamics of rocky exoplanets by coupling internal and orbital evolution models to make predictions for their detectability.



Tetherless World Constellation Chair and Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Peter Fox is a Tetherless World Constellation Chair and Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, Computer Science and Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Fox also directs the Institution-wide interdisciplinary Information Technology and Web Science program. Previously, he was Chief Computational Scientist at the High Altitude Observatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and before that a research scientist at Yale University. Fox has a B.Sc. (hons) and Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics (including physics and computer science) from Monash University. His research and education agenda covers the fields of data science and analytics, ocean and environmental informatics, computational logic, semantic Web, cognitive bias, semantic data frameworks, and solar and solar-terrestrial physics. The results are applied to large-scale distributed scientific repositories addressing the full life-cycle of data and information within specific science and engineering disciplines as well as among disciplines. Fox is past-resident and at-large board member of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP). Fox served as chair of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics Union Commission on Data and Information from 2007-2015, is past chair of the AGU Special Focus Group on Earth and Space Science Informatics, and associate editor for the Earth Science Informatics journal, editorial board member for Computers in Geosciences and Nature's Scientific Data. Fox served on the International Council for Science's Strategic Coordinating Committee for Information and Data. Fox was awarded the 2012 Martha Maiden Lifetime Achievement Award for service to the Earth Science Information community, and the 2012 European Geosciences Union Ian McHarg Medal for significant contributions to Earth and Space Science Informatics. In 2015, Fox was elected as the first Earth and Space Science Informatics fellow to the American Geophysical Union.



EON Research Fellow, Earth-Life Science Institute and Rutgers University

Donato Giovannelli is a Microbial Ecologist working on the microbiology of extreme environments. His primary research interest is in the co-evolution of the biosphere and the geosphere and on how life influences planetary-scale processes. His current research is focused on two related themes: 1) the metabolic and taxonomic diversity of prokaryotes in different extreme ecosystems; and 2) the emergence and evolution of early metabolism. These diverse interests stem from three basic assumptions underlying his research: i) prokaryotes dominated the evolutionary history of our planet; ii) they are responsible for the bio in biogeochemistry both at the ecosystem level and through time; and iii) extremophilic prokaryotes living in extreme environments resembling early Earth analogs, despite being extant organisms, retain a higher number of ancestral metabolic traits. In his work, Donato Giovannelli combines classic microbiology techniques with data from comparative genomic, phylogenetic, and environmental surveys and computational approaches to reconstruct geo-bio interactions.


Donato Giovannelli currently holds an appointment as a joint EON Research Fellow at the Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo and Rutgers University, USA, he is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, USA, and an Adjunct Researcher at the National Research Council of Italy. Giovannelli is also part of a new non-profit institute dedicated to exploring the origins and nature of awareness, YHouse, located in Manhattan, New York, USA. He is a convinced supporter of Open Science, and is currently involved in OPERAS (OPEn Research And Science Group), an international group dedicated to promoting Open Science practices within the research community. 



NPP Fellow, NASA Ames Research Center


Dr. Barbara Lafuente specializes in architecture and management of scientific databases with a focus on mineralogy and astrobiology. She is part of the University of Arizona-NASA team developing the Open Data Repository’s Data Publisher (ODR), an open-source software that allows researchers to easily create and publish databases. At NASA-Ames she is working with a consolidated group of astrobiologists from different active research teams on the development of the Astrobiology Habitable Environments Database (AHED). This central, high-quality, long-term data repository aims at promoting the field of astrobiology and increasing scientific returns from NASA funded research by enabling data sharing, collaboration and exposure of non-NASA scientists to NASA research initiatives and missions. AHED will provide public and open access to research data through the ODR platform.


Her other research interest is focused on the use of clay minerals as paleoenvironmental indicators. Her work involves developing geochemical tools for distinguishing early diagenetic clay minerals formed in non-marine vs. marine environments. The results from her work are intended to provide constraints on the environment and environmental tolerance of multicellular life preserved in the Doushantuo Formation (China), potentially pinpointing when certain organisms had adapted to non-marine conditions.



Senior Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory


Kerstin Lehnert is Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Director of the NSF-funded data facility IEDA (Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance). Kerstin holds a PhD in Petrology from the University of Freiburg in Germany. Over the past 15 years, her work has mostly centered on the development of community-driven data infrastructures for the solid Earth sciences and, in particular, on using cyberinfrastructure to improve access and sharing of Earth and space science data and physical samples, and on advancing data access and the data sharing culture in ‘small data’ communities. Kerstin is currently member of the NSF Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure, Chair of the EarthCube Leadership Council, President of the Earth and Space Science Informatics Focus Group of the American Geophysical Union, member of the AGU Council Leadership Team, and President of the IGSN e.V..



Science Deputy to the President, Carnegie Institution for Science


Dr. Margaret Moerchen is Science Deputy to the President. She works on new programs, strategic planning, scientific reviews of staff and departments, organizing and monitoring ongoing scientific collaborations and teams, partnerships with other organizations, and serves as liaison between all our scientists and the Carnegie president.

Before joining Carnegie, she served as an editor at the journal Science, where she handled astronomy and planetary science research. Dr. Moerchen did her undergraduate work at the University of Texas at Austin and her graduate work at the University of Florida as a NExSci Michelson Fellow. Her research focused on detecting the signatures of planetary formation around other stars and on the development of thermal infrared cameras for use at large ground-based telescopes, including at the Gemini Observatory in Chile, the Gran Telescopio Canarias in La Palma, Spain, and the Very Large Telescope in Chile.




AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, US Department of Agriculture

Rowan University

Dr. Moore is an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy fellow working at the USDA - Agricultural Research Service on enhancing data intensive research within the USDA.  

Previously Eli was a postdoctoral research associate at Rutgers University working with Paul Falkowski on understanding the coevolution of the geosphere and biosphere. He is particularly interested in Earth surface redox state on the availability of crucial metallocofactors and the evolution of metabolic pathways in the Archean Eon. Through this work Dr. Moore and colleagues have constructed a primitive network of biological electron transfer which gave rise to the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) and the evolution of specialized multicellular organisms. He is now building data resources to link this network of electron transfer to protein structure evolution in deep time and in modern environments. 

Eli’s past work focused on tracking the longevity of algal proteins in the water column and sediments as part of the greater carbon and nitrogen cycles, and discovering new membrane lipid structures using high resolution mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).



Postdoctoral Associate, Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science

CheMin Instrument Lead, NASA Mars Science Laboratory Mission


Dr. Shaunna Morrison is a postdoctoral research associate at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Geophysical Laboratory. She is also a CheMin instrument lead on the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Mission (Curiosity rover). Her research background is in crystallography, crystal chemistry, and planetary applications thereof. Her current research delves into characterizing the relationships of mineral diversity and distribution, and into using advanced analytics to study Earth Systems. Her work focuses on mineral network analysis, mineral ecology and evolution, comparative planetology, and mineral bonding systematics. She is developing a deep-time mineral database, mineral network analysis techniques, and exploring predictive machine learning, all with applications to comparative planetology, understanding the redox history of the Earth’s surface, and determining elemental availability through deep time. 



Assistant Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Dr. Rogers’ research focuses on the relationships between environmental conditions and life’s emergence and survival, and is broadly applied to understanding the origin of life on Earth, the potential for life throughout the solar system, and the extent of life in extreme environments. Dr. Rogers’ research program includes field research in early Earth and Mars analog environments and modern extreme ecosystems, geochemical modeling of abiotic synthesis and microbial metabolism in extreme environments, as well as experimental laboratory studies that emphasize true replication of environmental conditions. The driving question is how realistic environmental conditions combine to form habitable niches that can both support the early emergence of life as well as the long-term survival of life in these environments.


Dr. Rogers’ fieldwork includes several terrestrial hydrothermal systems, shallow marine hydrothermal system, and modern deep-sea mid-ocean ridge environments. These field endeavors are combined with laboratory experiments to develop a holistic picture of functional microbial ecosystems. Furthermore, cultivation of microbial communities at high-pressure conditions is extending our understanding of habitability in subsurface conditions on Earth as well as the subsurface oceans of Icy Worlds. Additionally, Dr. Rogers’ group is exploring the abiotic synthesis and stability of prebiotic biomolecules over a range of realistic early Earth conditions. Faithful replication of in situ conditions, including temperature, pressure, fluid chemistry, and mineralogy, fosters the development of origins of life scenarios that focus on experimental and environmental conditions that are both possible for prebiotic synthesis as well as plausible on early Earth.


Dr. Rogers is the US Lead for the Deep Carbon Observatory’s PRIME (Piezophile Research Instrumentation for Microbial Exploration) Facility, is Associate Director of the New York Center for Astrobiology at RPI, and joins Peter Fox as co-Lead for the DCO Data Science team.



Reader, University of St Andrews


Dr. Aubrey Zerkle is a Reader in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, and a PI of the inter-disciplinary Peter James Clarke Centre for Philosophical Geobiology. Her research focuses on understanding the co-evolution of life with Earth and other planetary environments over geologic timescales. She utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach, including stable isotope geochemistry, microbiology, nutrient and trace metal analyses, to examine these interactions and possible feedbacks in modern and paleo-environments.


Current research in Dr Zerkle’s group centers around three broad areas:

1. Investigating feedbacks between the geosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere during important transitions in Earth history, including the Great Oxidation Event, Periodic Haze Events, and mass extinction events;

2. Examining biogeochemical cycling in extreme environments that act as modern "analogues" to ancient Earth and exoplanetary systems (e.g., sulfidic and acidic environments);

3. Establishing and evaluating stable isotope biosignatures for microbial activity, on Earth and beyond.

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