News and Updates


Hot, squeezed carbon samples provide explanation of where large amounts of carbon reside in Earth’s interior

High pressures and temperatures cause materials to exhibit unusual properties, some of which can be special. Understanding such new properties is important for developing new materials for desired industrial uses and also for understanding the interior of Earth, where everything is hot and squeezed.

A paper in Nature Geoscience highlights a new technique in which small amounts of a sample can be studied while being hot and squeezed within an electron microscope. Use of such a microscopy method permits determination of details down to the scale of a few atoms, including the detection of unexpected atom types or atoms in unexpected places, as within a mineral.

Jun Wu and Peter Buseck, the paper’s authors, both at Arizona State University, conducted the research on campus at the J.M. Cowley Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy of the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science. The researchers used tiny containers of carbon, less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair and therefore small enough to fit within high-resolution electron microscopes, to enclose materials similar to those deep within Earth. They then used the electron beam to shrink and thereby squeeze these minuscule capsules. When combined with heating of the samples, new features were observed in the enclosed materials.

“Under such high pressures and temperatures, the materials inside the capsules developed faults that concentrated carbon along them,” explains Buseck, Regents' Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

The Nature Geoscience paper describes the use of this new method to address the important problem of how and where carbon is located within Earth’s interior. Carbon is an essential building block for all forms of life and it also has important effects on climate and climate change through greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon tetrahydride, also known as natural gas or methane.

The largest single reservoir for carbon is within Earth’s interior. However, the known hosts for this carbon are believed to be insufficient to explain the amounts present.

Because Earth’s interior (as well as the interiors of other planets) contains vast amounts of materials like those used in the experiments, the scientists conclude that such faults, and the carbon they concentrate, provide a solution to the problem of explaining where large amounts of carbon reside in Earth’s interior.

Wu and Buseck’s experiments also demonstrate a new way of studying materials at high pressure and temperature within an electron microscope, thereby significantly extending the tools available to scientists for examining materials under extreme conditions.

Photo: Jun Wu (left) and Professor Peter Buseck (right)


This year is the forty-fourth anniversary of the first human lunar landing. By now, many are very familiar with the high-quality Hasselblad snapshots taken by the Apollo astronauts during their voyages. However, 35-mm cameras were also carried on some of the Apollo missions for both surface and orbital imaging. Most of the surface 35-mm images are extreme closeups of the lunar regolith from the Apollo Lunar Surface Closeup Camera (ALSCC; Apollo 11, 12, 14); sometimes called the Gold Camera after its Principal Investigator Thomas Gold. The Nikon camera used on board the Apollo Command Module was equipped with a 55-mm lens and was loaded with either black-and-white or color film. During Apollo missions 16 and 17, black-and-white film was used for dim-light photography of astronomical phenomena and lunar surface targets illuminated by Earthshine. During Apollo 17, color film was used for documenting various activities in the Command Module.

The 35-mm frames are now scanned as part of a joint project between Arizona State University and the NASA Johnson Space Center to scan all of the original Apollo flight films.

Read the full post on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera website here

Image: Astronaut Cernan (UR, LR), Evans (UL, LR) and Schmitt (LL) relaxing in the Apollo 17 Command Module America after Cernan and Schmitt returned from three days of exploring the magnificent Taurus Littrow valley [NASA/ Arizona State University].



An article published July 19 in TechNews World discusses the mission of installing a lunar telescope. Writer Richard Adhikari interviewed SESE's Professor Erik Asphaug, the Ronald Greeley Chair of Planetary Science, for the story.

The International Lunar Observatory Association and Moon Express have definitively announced the first mission to the Moon's south pole, tentatively scheduled for 2016.

It will involve delivering the International Lunar Observatory to Malapert Mountain to conduct astronomical observations and communications with Earth. The robotic lander from Moon Express will also explore the area for mineral resources and water, traces of which have been found there by lunar probes.

In the article Asphaug says: "The time is right for private landers on the Moon," adding that "There is cash floating around, and a growing recognition that someday one of these companies is going to win big once a pipeline for lunar resources is opened up. It is limited only by the human imagination."

Read the full story



Only one planet has been proven to support life: Earth. But evidence is mounting that we are not alone. Biogeochemist Ariel Anbar and astrophysicist Steven Desch, professors in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, are quoted in the story “The Case for Alien Life” in Popular Mechanics’ July/August 2013 issue about the search for life beyond Earth.

Generations of scientists and science-fiction fans have thought we would find life strewn throughout the stars. But for decades the evidence was thin. Now, thanks to sophisticated probes, space telescopes and rovers the data is on the side of the believers.

Astrobiologists say that the watery worlds in stars' habitable zones, where life is most likely to be found, are still the likeliest places to search for life.

New studies show that organisms may thrive far beyond the boundary of a star’s habitable zone in more extreme environments, including desert worlds and hurtling asteroids. In our own solar system, Jupiter and Saturn are outside of the sun's habitable zone, according to the standard definition, yet several of their moons are considered among the most promising sites to search.

Desch is quoted in the article as saying, "If life might exist in the subsurface oceans of moons, heated by their own radioactivity, then no distance from the sun is too far. It's beginning to look like the definition of a habitable zone is out the window."

Anbar points out that distant star systems will have varying proportions of elements such as carbon, oxygen, and silicon. Such variety could drive evolution in hard-to-imagine directions. "The things we can conceive of are probably a very small set of the possibilities that are out there," Anbar says. "We know we're going to be surprised."

However, there is no guarantee we'll ever find life on distant worlds.

"Is life a universal phenomenon, a planetary process just like plate tectonics?" Anbar asks. "Or is life some weird statistical fluke? The only way we can answer that is by searching."



Late professor Ronald Greeley, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University until his death in 2011, is the 2013 recipient of the Harold Masursky Award for outstanding service to planetary science and exploration. The prize is named after the distinguished geologist and astronomer Harold Masursky (1922-1990), who investigated planetary and lunar surfaces, with a primary interest in finding scientifically valuable landing places.

The Masursky Award was established by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society to recognize and honor individuals who have rendered outstanding service to planetary science and exploration through engineering, managerial, programmatic, or public service activities. Greeley is the twentieth recipient of the Masursky Award and the first from Arizona State University.

Greeley was involved in nearly every major space probe mission flown in the solar system since the Apollo missions to the Moon, including the Galileo mission to Jupiter, Magellan mission to Venus, Voyager 2 mission to Uranus and Neptune, and shuttle imaging radar studies of Earth. Passionate about Mars exploration, He was involved with several missions to the Red Planet, including Mariners 6, 7, and 9, Viking, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, and the Mars Exploration Rovers. He was a co-investigator for the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Mars Express mission.

Greeley was a Regents Professor of Planetary Geology at Arizona State University in the School of Earth and Space Exploration until his death on Oct. 27, 2011. He received his Ph.D. in geology in 1966 from the University of Missouri at Rolla. Through service in the U.S. Army, he was assigned to NASA’s Ames Research Center in 1967, where he trained astronauts and helped prepare for the Apollo missions to the Moon. After his military service ended, he remained at NASA Ames to conduct research in planetary geology. Greeley joined the faculty at Arizona State University in 1977 with a joint professorship in the Department of Geology and the Center for Meteorite Studies.

The Harold Masursky Award will be accepted by Greeley’s widow, Cynthia Greeley, at the 45th annual DPS meeting in Denver, Colo., Oct. 6-11, 2013.

More information about DPS prizes:

More information about the DPS annual meeting:


(Nikki Cassis)



It has taken centuries for scientists to settle on a creation story for our moon, the most popular of which is depicted on the July cover of National Geographic magazine. But the debate is still far from finished. Professor Erik Asphaug is the the scientist "behind the cover" for the cover story "The Moon's Mystery: Scientists Debate How it Formed." He explained that scientists generally agree that something smashed into Earth to give birth to the moon—but new evidence has cast doubt on details of the giant impact model. Asphaug has proposed that Earth briefly had a second moonlet, which plastered itself onto the far side of its larger companion. You can read the full story here

In a separate article, published July 9 by the Huffington Post, Asphaug also discusses the moon's origin. 

"All planets except the Earth, that have a moon, have more than one. "So it is unusual that we have only 'the Moon,' so this itself is an oddity that would need to be explained." You read the story and watch the video here


Evrim Resources Corp. (EVM.V), a mineral exploration company with a diverse portfolio of quality gold and copper projects, and a geological database covering Mexico and portions of southwestern United States, has appointed SESE graduate Jeff Geier as Senior Geologist.

Geier holds honors B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from Arizona State University, specializing in field-based analysis of geology, structure, and geochemistry. The majority of his experience, focused in Mexico, the United States, and southern Europe, has been concentrated on the exploration for porphyry copper and mesothermal gold deposits. His activities range from greenfield and reconnaissance exploration to project management. Geier will be generating projects in Mexico and elsewhere as well as providing oversight to Evrim''s exploration projects.

Read more here


Francis (Frank) Timmes, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, has been named vice provost of educational technology, a new position designed to help meet the growing use of educational technology at ASU. In this position, Timmes will be encouraging and enabling faculty to use the best-suited technology for their courses.

“Professor Timmes has a unique combination of demonstrated excellence in digital teaching and a deep understanding of advanced computing,” said Elizabeth D. Phillips, ASU executive vice president and provost. “He is the perfect person to help realize the university’s vision of leadership in academic excellence and accessibility by innovative use of educational technology to improve teaching and learning.”

Timmes’ experience includes teaching the largest online science lecture and laboratory courses at ASU. He also serves on the Provost’s Committee on Excellence in Digital Teaching, the Informational Technology Leadership Council and is director of the ASU Advanced Computing Center. In this new role, Timmes will work closely with faculty and instructional technologists across the university and will lead the UTO Academic Technologies group’s efforts to build additional capacity to support faculty use of technology.

“I am thrilled to be working in this new position at ASU to help the university excel in digital teaching,” Timmes said. “The rapid evolution of educational technologies such as streaming video, social networking and interactive gaming are a few examples that can aid students and instructors in offering a more collaborative, active-learning online experience.”

Timmes added that currently there is a vast array of educational technologies being evaluated or used by different academic units, so one need is providing an aggregation point where faculty and staff can experiment with the technologies and learn from other faculty and staff what works best for a given course. Another goal is providing the tools needed for instructors to offer students an active-learning online environment.

Timmes said he will draw from his experiences in his own online teaching methodologies, from hybrid courses to streaming video courses, to green room recorded courses and addressing online academic integrity. In addition, Timmes said his experience with scientific computing technology – including hardware, software and community support – provides useful, related background knowledge.

Timmes came to ASU in 2008 as a professor and associate director of graduate studies in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. His research is in astrophysics with a focus on supernovae, cosmic chemical evolution and their impacts on astrobiology. He is a scientific editor of The Astrophysical Journal.

Timmes received his doctorate and master's in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California Santa Cruz and his bachelor's in physics from the University of California Santa Barbara.



NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) have announced that two Arizona State University research teams have been awarded NASA grants totaling $700,000 to support astronaut crew health and performance in space exploration missions. Of the 100 proposals received, NASA and NSBRI selected 23 proposals representing 18 institutions. ASU was one of only three institutions to have more than one proposal selected, a testament to ASU’s leadership position at the forefront of spaceflight research and space exploration.

Ariel Anbar, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was awarded a three-year grant totaling $600,000 to detect bone loss of astronauts in microgravity, a major challenge for humans engaged in long-term space travel.

Anbar investigates bone loss by applying a technique that originated in the Earth sciences. Over the past six years he and his team have developed a method for rapidly detecting changes in short-term net bone mineral balance (BMB) based on measurement of the natural calcium isotope composition of urine and blood.

Anbar and his team, which includes associate research scientist Gwyneth Gordon and adjunct professor Joseph Skulan, both in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, have validated this method in bed rest studies. This successor grant will allow for the testing of the calcium isotope technique in spaceflight, by monitoring changes in the urine of crew members aboard the International Space Station. Separately, they are pursuing applications of the technique to the detection and treatment of bone diseases on Earth.

“Bone loss is a serious problem faced by astronauts on long-duration space missions,” said Anbar. “Our calcium isotope assay allows rapid, quantitative measures of the changes in BMB that lead to bone loss, providing key information that other techniques cannot provide.”

The second ASU recipient was Jennifer Barrila, an assistant research scientist at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, the Biodesign Institute at ASU. Barrila studies microbial pathogens and is working to provide novel insights into infectious disease risks for astronauts during spaceflight missions. As a senior member of Professor Cheryl Nickerson’s research team, Barrila was awarded $100,000 for a year long study to advance the previous findings made by their team that showed that spaceflight uniquely increased the disease-causing potential of the food-borne pathogen Salmonella Typhimurium.

The goal of Barrila’s study is to use the nematode C. elegans as a host model system to evaluate the effects of microgravity analogue culture on the virulence (disease causing potential) of both pathogenic and commensal microorganisms in order to mitigate infectious disease risks to NASA crews. Astronauts are particularly vulnerable to infection due to reduced immune function during spaceflight missions. The newly funded study led by ASU is a multidisciplinary collaborative effort between her team (which includes Nickerson), Sarah Castro and Mark Ott at the NASA Johnson Space Center and John Alverdy from the University of Chicago School of Medicine.

“ASU is one of the leading NASA-funded universities in the country and our team is honored that NASA continues to recognize and fund our team’s research contributions in support of crew health and mission success, which are critical for the future of human spaceflight,” said Barrila. “In addition to enhancing our understanding of microbial risk to the crew during spaceflight, it is also exciting that this work holds the potential to enhance our general understanding of the host-pathogen interaction and may hold health benefits for the general public.”

“The public’s interest in sending humans on long missions in space has never been higher,” says Anbar. “Not only NASA, but many private entrepreneurs are aiming to send people to Mars and other deep space destinations. Keeping people healthy on such voyages is going to be a huge challenge. Scientists at ASU are at the forefront in tackling these challenges.”

For a list of recipients, visit:

(Nikki Cassis)

You can read the story published by the Phoenix Business Journal here:


Congratulations to Ben Stinnett, SESE undergraduate in Exploration Systems Design and Barrett Honors College member, for being one of the inaugural US Airways Scholarship winners.

The US Airways Scholarship consists of a $1,500 monetary award and was created through the generosity US Airways in order to support outstanding undergraduate students who are seeking degrees in areas that are related to the diverse needs of the airline industry. There are only five US Airways Scholars in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with others in W.P. Carey and Fulton Schools of Engineering. As a US Airways Scholar, students will attend a tour of US Airways Headquarters to learn about the company and meet with executives.

The other recipients are:

Andrew Taylor, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Alicia Olivas, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Kamra Hakim, School of Politics and Global Studies
Jonathan Londono, School of Transborder Studies