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Research

My research expertise is in experimental and analytical geochemistry and the thermodynamics of fluids at high pressures and temperature. My undergraduate and graduate students and I are involved in research in a wide variety of areas including igneous petrology, petrochemistry, and aqueous geochemistry. My current research project is funded through the Astrobiology Program (Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology) at NASA. We are measuring the partial molal volumes of aqueous organic mixtures at high temperatures and pressures. These experimentally determined data can be used to develop and refine estimates of the thermodynamic properties of organic compounds for which measurements are not available. Ultimately, this research has applications to developing a more accurate geochemical model for the origin of life on Earth in extreme environments such as hydrothermal vents (black smokers) and solar system bodies such as Mars and Europa.

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Deep ocean hydrothermal vent (black smoker). Photo courtesy NOAA Ocean Explorer.

A fragment of the Allende meteorite containing amino acids (organic molecules that are the building blocks of proteins), formaldehyde and other complex organic molecules. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Europa - a large moon of Jupiter. Photo courtesy NASA.

A general theory of biological evolution should include . . . how life evolved from nonlife.
- David Depew & Bruce H. Weber, Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection, 1995