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Lindy Elkins-Tanton

Lindy Elkins-Tanton

Elkins-Tanton is a two-time National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow and served on the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey Mars panel.


Differentiated Model II

By examining a range of possible bulk compositions as defined by primitive meteorites and applying a range of oxidizing or reducing conditions, we can predict a range of possible terrestrial planets, some pertinent to our solar system, and others appropriate for the unusual conditions of exoplanet systems.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton is the director of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. Her research is on the evolution of terrestrial planets, and the relationships between Earth and life on Earth.

One large ongoing project concerns the relationships between large volcanic provinces and global extinction events, focusing on the Siberian flood basalts and the end-Permian extinction. A second major research effort addresses the chemistry and physics of the formation of terrestrial planets, with projects focusing on planetesimals, the Moon, Mercury, the Earth, rocky exoplanets, and on processes such as degassing the earliest atmospheres.

Though the work on planetary formation requires theory and experiments, the projects focusing on large volcanic provinces require field work. She has lead three field seasons in Siberia, as well as participated in fieldwork in the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades, and the Faroe Islands, and a fourth Siberian expedition.

Elkins-Tanton received her B.S. and M.S. from MIT in 1987, and then spent eight years working in business, with five years spent writing business plans for young high-tech ventures. She then returned to MIT for a Ph.D. Elkins-Tanton spent five years as a researcher at Brown University, followed by five years on MIT faculty, culminating as Associate Professor of Geology, before accepting her current position at Carnegie.

Elkins-Tanton is a two-time National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow and served on the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey Mars panel. In 2008 she was awarded a five-year National Science Foundation CAREER award, and in 2009 was named Outstanding MIT Faculty Undergraduate Research Mentor. In 2010 she was awarded the Explorers Club Lowell Thomas prize. The second edition of her six-book series The Solar System, a reference series for libraries, was published in 2010. When not in the lab or in Siberia she is home in Washington, DC, with her mathematician husband, son, and two border collies.


  • Elkins-Tanton, L.T., B.P. Weiss, M.T. Zuber, Chondrites as samples of differentiated planetesimals, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 305, 1-10, DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2011.03.010, 2011.

  • Elkins-Tanton, L.T., Magma oceans in the inner solar system, accepted at Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 2012.

  • Elkins-Tanton, L.T., S. Burgess, and Qing-Zhu Yin, The lunar magma ocean: Reconciling the solidification process with lunar petrology and geochronology, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 304, 326-336, DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2011.02.004, 2011.

  • Elkins-Tanton, L.T., Formation of early water oceans on rocky planets, Astrophysics and Space Science, 302(2), 359, DOI: 10.1007/s10509-010-0535-3, 2011.

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