News and Updates


The center of the Earth is about 6,371 kilometers or 4, 000 miles away, roughly the distance between Phoenix and the North Pole.

It cannot be seen. It cannot be touched. And it cannot be sampled.

But that doesn’t stop Dan Shim, a mineral physicist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU, from trying to understand the forces working deep within our world.

“You may wonder why I’m interested in the interior, which is far, far away and sounds like something that is separated from our daily life,” Shim said. “But if you think of the whole planet, the surface is very small volumetrically and the interior represents 99 percent of the planet.”

Studying the interior of the Earth helps scientists answer questions about how the Earth has changed over billions of years and why there are volcanoes and earthquakes, Shim said.

But figuring out what the inside of the Earth is made of is not so easy.

“If you think about geologists, you think about rocks and studying rocks, but in our case there are no rock samples to deal with unfortunately,” Shim said.

There are several different ways to study the Earth’s interior, which cannot be directly probed. Seismologists look at how earthquakes propagate through the Earth and try to construct an image based on the waves’ reflections and refractions.

Shim’s research helps seismologists understand what the images mean.

“If you do an ultrasound of your body, you’re basically looking at contrasts in properties,” Shim said. The reason doctors can say, “This is a tumor,” is because the tumor looks different relative to the image of the body surrounding it, he said.

“But to understand the image, you need to understand the properties of the material that makes up the particular thing you image,” Shim said. “My job is to squeeze the rock up to the pressure you expect for the mantle and the core and observe what kind of processes are going on in the lab.”

Shim and his research team study how the properties of rocks change under extreme pressure and temperature by simulating the conditions in the laboratory.

The laboratory experiments help Shim understand how the deep interior of the Earth operates and helps him interpret seismology data

“One fancy part of my research is using diamonds,” Shim said.

Diamond is the strongest material known in nature, making it ideal for high pressure experiments.

Using a microscope and a needle, Shim takes pieces of rocks smaller than the width of a human hair and places them in between two quarter-carat diamonds. The diamonds, which are embedded in steel casings, are forced together by four screws to higher and higher pressures.

“If you stack 100 Statue of Liberties, and then apply that weight to one square inch, that’s roughly the pressure at the center of the Earth,” Shim said.

The pressure Shim works with is so great that sometimes the diamonds break, he said.

“We have a joke in my community: How many diamonds do you need to break to get a Ph.D.?” Shim said. “I broke 11.”

Shim has been an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration since August 2011. He has taught Geology 101, Planetary Materials and will be teaching Dynamic Planet in the spring.

“SESE has a very unique structure bringing astrophysicists, geologists, geophysicists and system engineers all together,” Shim said. “This unique structure presents a lot of new opportunities.”

Photo: Sang-Heon Dan Shim, a mineral physicist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, uses a microscope and needles to place tiny rock samples in between two diamonds. Shim uses the diamonds to simulate conditions that exist in the Earth's interior. Credit: Kristen Hwang

(Kristen Hwang)



Solid Terrain Modeling Inc. is the company that made our Valles Marineris / Grand Canyon comparison 3D model on the first floor of ISTB 4. They do neat stuff! Like the world’s largest physical terrain model, etc.




What: Earth & Space Open House
Friday, Nov. 22 from 7-10 p.m.
Location: ISTB 4 (lecture at 8 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater and telescopes from 8-10 p.m. on the Rural parking structure roof, weather permitting)

Event features: A public lecture, a special comet demonstration, planetarium shows, exhibits, and activities in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration (ISTB 4 1st and 2nd floor), including an underwater robotics demo. There will be two 3D planetarium shows at 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater.

Public Lecture Information:
Speaker: Steven Desch, SESE professor
Time: 8 p.m. (Lecture is in Room 185)
Title: Icy Messengers from Beyond - Exploring the Role of Comets in our Solar System

Steven Desch, associate professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, will talk about comets. He will describe what they are, discuss comet ISON, and talk about their role in art and history. Desch is an astrophysicist who models the formation of stars, planets and solar systems, and specializes in using data from meteorites to constrain those models. He is the recipient of the 2003 Nier Prize of the Meteoritical Society. More recently he has modeled the internal thermal evolution of icy dwarf planets.

The future open house dates are: 2/21, 3/28, and 4/25, each featuring a different earth and space-related theme.
Facebook Event: 
Earth & Space Open House website:




Capturing the public’s interest is a key component for “New Space,” where commercial companies are filling in some of the roles that had been traditionally played by NASA, and education has an important role to play, said Ariel Anbar, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

This new role for academia is “a deeper, more authentic relationship than providing training and science majors” to industry, he said. Educating non-science majors is also important.

“Investors in space companies primarily are not going to be science majors,” Anbar said. “They are business majors, philosophy majors, history majors. These are the people who need to have a good understanding of what is done out there and how it affects us down here.”

Anbar was speaking at a Nov. 15 forum on the future of space exploration at the National Press Club. The forum featured a panel of space industry experts discussing the future of space exploration in a time of curtailed NASA funding and a need of more collaboration between industry, academia and the government.

The panel included Lori Garver, former Deputy Administrator, NASA; Alex Saltman, executive director, Commercial Space Flight Federation; Steve Isakowitz, president, Virgin Galactic; Jon Morse, CEO, Boldly Go Institute; and Laurie Leshin, dean, School of Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Anbar said a key to success in this New Space era is seeking to garner public interest and support.

“We need to think of public interest as a market,” he said. “We have to figure out ways to tap that market.”

One way Anbar proposed is for a university and space company to work together and set up a MOOC (massively open on-line course) that would provide a portal into the work and missions of the space company.

“Missions can go for several years in development and execution,” Anbar said. “The MOOC could provide an educational experience that could last a student’s career and provide insight and experience” unparalleled today.

If they added in a nominal cost of taking part in the MOOC, of say $100, then it in turn could provide funding to the company for future missions.

“The goal is to match a public interest with a commercial interest,” Anbar said.

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is an academic unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Photo: An artist's conception of the Dragon capsule developed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), one of six companies designing launch vehicles and spacecraft designs for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

(Skip Derra)



Model maker Jim Arbaugh has completed another project for SESE that demonstrates his incredible talent and attention to detail. Please be sure to check out the ISS model installed in the display window on the NW corner of ISTB 4. Jim also built the MSL Curiosity rover and the new Saturn V rocket model on display in the gallery.



SpaceVision 2013, the largest annual student-organized space conference in the world, was held Nov. 7-10 in and around the new state-of-the-art ISTB 4 building on the ASU Tempe campus, home to the School for Earth and Space Exploration. Speakers included science superstars Bill Nye the Science Guy, Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait and a range of speakers from the space sciences.

SpaceVision brings students from across the world together with professionals and thought leaders in academia for four days of networking, education and awareness around space and science.

This year’s conference was co-hosted by the ASU and University of Arizona SEDS chapters. Approximately 350 students attended, with roughly 50 from ASU and most of those from either SESE or the Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“SpaceVision 2013 was a huge success. We had some phenomenal and enthusiastic new and veteran speakers that generated a great deal of excitement for all attendees,” said economics major John Conafay, president of SEDS ASU and co-chair of SpaceVision.

Bill Nye, a highlight for many attendees, kicked off the conference Thursday evening with a keynote address. Following his speech were several days of workshops, tours and Ignite Talks by SEDS alumnus. Speakers also included: Bob Richards the cofounder of SEDS and CEO of Moon Express, author and astronomer Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait, President of The Planetary Society Dr. Jim Bell and others.

“The Ignite Talks are a SEDS tradition of having SEDS alumni who are new in industry come back and share their stories with current SEDS students. This year we had SESE alumni Hallie Gengl, Jim Crowell, Laura Fisher and University of Colorado at Boulder alum Kyle Shannon all give talks,” said Jack Lightholder, computer science major, vice president of the ASU chapter and co-chair of SpaceVision.

Attendees interacted with speakers and others from various private, government and academic space sectors. Of special interest were representatives of two asteroid mining companies: Rick Tumlinson, founder of Deep Space Industries and Chris Lewicki, Chief Asteroid Miner (President & Chief Engineer) of Planetary Resources, Inc.

The conference also included elections for national officers. Lightholder and Conafay were both elected to the national board of directors for SEDS-USA as the vice chair and treasurer, respectively.

SEDS is an independent, student-based organization which promotes the exploration and development of space. SEDS believes in a space-faring civilization and that focusing the enthusiasm of young people is the key to our future in space.

(Nikki Cassis)



Arizona State University Foundation Professor Kip Hodges is co-investigator and ASU principal investigator for a node of the new NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). SSERVI brings nine teams of researchers from NASA laboratories, universities, research institutions, and commercial enterprises together in a collaborative virtual setting to focus on questions concerning planetary science and human space exploration in the inner Solar System.

Through Hodges participation, ASU is affiliated with "Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science and Exploration” team that is led by Jennifer Heldmann of NASA’s Ames Research Center. Other nodes of the virtual institute are based at Brown University, the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the Lunar and Planetary Institute (Houston, Texas), NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, Colo.), Stony Brook University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Colorado. All together, the new virtual institute embraces the research of nearly 200 scientists nationwide, providing them with a total of roughly $12 million per year over the next five years.

“I’m very pleased that, through Jen’s leadership, the NASA Ames node was selected to be an inaugural part of SSERVI”, said Hodges. “I think we have assembled a great team of researchers that cross the boundaries between planetary science and the engineering and implementation of new technologies to enhance our ability to do science on other worlds.”

In addition to researchers from the Ames Research Center and ASU, the NASA Ames team includes participants from: the BAER Institute; the Canadian Space Agency; Cornell University; Evergreen Valley College; Honeybee Robotics; Idaho State University; the Korean Institute of Geoscience & Mineral Resources; Los Gatos Research; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Purdue University; the SETI Institute; Studio 98; the University of Toronto; the University of Western Ontario; Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering; and NASA’s Goddard, Johnson, Kennedy, and Marshall Space Flight Centers.

The NASA Ames team will focus on the development of innovative strategies for scientific research on asteroids, the Moon, and the moons of Mars – as well as on samples returned from those bodies – through studies of planetary analog sites on Earth. Hodges notes that it is important to establish best practices for human and robotic exploration of space prior to the launch of real missions so that we can maximize the quality and quantity of science that can be done at our exploration targets.

“By studying geologic features on Earth that are similar to those we will encounter on other bodies, we better prepare ourselves for future explorations.” The NASA Ames node will be conducting such studies on volcanic landscapes in Idaho and at meteorite impact craters in northern Canada.

Hodges was recruited for participation in SSERVI as a consequence of his research group’s work on determining the ages of impact events on Earth and the Moon.

“On coming to ASU in 2006, it was one of my goals to establish a world-class center for noble gas geochronology and geochemistry in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Thanks to investments by ASU, the National Science Foundation, and NASA, the laboratory my research group has worked hard to put together enables some very creative work, including our pioneering use of laser microprobe technologies for dating impact events”, Hodges says.

Recent work of this kind has focused on a variety of terrestrial impact sites and on lunar impact rocks brought back during the Apollo 16 and 17 missions. Many members of Hodges’ research group – research scientists Mathijs van Soest and Jo Anne Wartho, postdoctoral associates Marc Biren, Frances Cooper, and John Weirich, and graduate students Cameron Mercer and Kelsey Young – have contributed to building the laboratory’s reputation as a leading facility for impact dating.

“Our participation in the work of the NASA Ames node of SSERVI permits us to expand our work on terrestrial impact sites in a way that will feed forward into future studies of samples returned from exploration targets like near-Earth asteroids, our Moon and the moons of nearby planets, or Mars. We are excited to be part of such a great effort, and look forward to helping NASA write the next chapter in the history of space exploration,” states Hodges.

For more information about SSERVI and selected member teams, visit:

Photo: Established in 2006, the Noble Gas Geochronology and Geochemistry Laboratories (NG3L) at Arizona State University provide state-of-the-art facilities for ASU researchers and guests. The main instrument room houses analytical systems for both quadrupole and magnetic sector mass spectrometry. Photo courtesy of Kip Hodges

(Nikki Cassis)


Icarus Rocketry, the newest club in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, has quite literally lofty goals for the coming year.

By the end of the school year, members of the Icarus team aim to become the first student-driven team to design a high powered rocket that flies to an altitude of 100, 000 feet, said Peter Nguyen, team project director. Mount Everest is about 29, 000 feet above sea level.

The team, which was founded this past summer, doesn’t want to stop there.

Within the next three years, Icarus plans on breaking all altitude records set by university rocketry groups by flying a rocket to an altitude of 100 kilometers, the height commonly accepted as the edge of space, Nguyen said.

“Most people when they think of rocketry think of model rockets like the kind you build in high school,” Nguyen said. “But high powered rockets regularly reach altitudes of a few thousand feet.”

With flying at the forefront of their initial agenda, the Icarus team wants to give its members the opportunity to fly at rocketry competitions, Nguyen said. The team plans on using commercial rocket parts to achieve their first flight goal of 100, 000 feet and to fly at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in June, he said.

To get to higher altitudes, however, the team will build its own rockets from scratch.

“As we progress toward becoming the first student group that hits the edge of space, we’ll have to work on building our own propulsion systems,” Nguyen said.

The team’s high altitude goals also have research applications, Nguyen said.

“Once we have the capability to reach 100 kilometers, we could use our rockets as a test platform within the School of Earth and Space Exploration for those who want to test experiments in low gravity or high altitude conditions,” he said.

Goals aside, Icarus is still in the initial stages of teaching its members about rocketry. The club meets in PSF-226 on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. for workshops on recovery systems, design software and propulsion systems.

The club welcomes students from any major as long as they are interested in rocketry and willing to learn.

“We have a good mix of graduate and undergraduate majors from astrophysics, systems design and engineering, but we’ll catch anyone up to speed as long as they’re interested and committed,” he said.

Icarus Rocketry is not associated with Daedalus Astronautics, a high-powered rocketry club at ASU that was called ICARUS when it was founded in 2001.

For more information contact Peter Nguyen at

(Kristen Hwang)


The story “New galaxy 'most distant' yet discovered” written by Rebecca Morelle and published by the BBC on Oct. 23 is based on a recent paper that has ASU ties.

The lead author and several others on the paper “A galaxy rapidly forming stars 700 million years after the Big Bang at redshift 7.51” published in Nature are ASU alumni. Steve Finkelstein did his thesis work with professors James Rhoads and Sangeeta Malhotra; Keely Snider Finkelstein did her thesis with professor Jeff Hester; and V. S. Tilvi did his with Malhotra.



School of Earth and Space Exploration invites public to day of hands-on fun

The public is invited to spend a day exploring Earth and space with ASU scientists from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. The day-long event is designed to inspire kids, parents, educators, and other community members that are intrigued by science.

Earth and Space Exploration Day provides a variety of science-related interactive activities for children age five and up and anyone interested in exploring Earth and space alongside real scientists.

For more than 15 years faculty and students in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have sponsored the event and used it as a means of connecting the community with science.

Together families can experience a variety of activities including digging for meteorites and creating impact craters, manipulating robotic arms and driving remote controlled underwater robots, and learning the science of rockets by making a soda straw rocket, to name a few. For a complete listing of activities, visit:

In addition to the tabletop activities and interactive demonstrations, there will be lab tours, lectures, and opportunities to engage with the kiosk-style exhibits in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration.

Space lovers can look through telescopes at solar spots and visit a replica of Curiosity Rover, matching the dimensions of the real rover currently on Mars. Several 3-D astronomy shows will be offered at various times in the building’s state-of-the-art, high-definition Marston Exploration Theater (view schedule).

Meteorite enthusiasts can visit the meteorite display on the second floor, drawn from the extensive collection of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies. Visitors can examine touchable samples, engage with interactive displays, and ask staff to inspect potential meteorite specimens.

Rock hounds can bring a rock specimen for ‘Dr. Rock’ to analyze and identify, or take part in a family-friendly geology field trip to “A” Mountain (Hayden Butte) to learn about the sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks and geological structures exposed in Tempe. The ASU GeoClub will also be selling mineral and rock samples, along with snacks.

Lectures are scheduled throughout the day on topics ranging from space exploration to Earth’s climate.

Attendees are encourage to pre-register:

For more information, contact the School of Earth and Space Exploration at (480) 965-5081 or visit