Research Focus Areas

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A SESE hallmark is its focus on transdisciplinary research. Rather than organizing ourselves by research methodologies, we emphasize research themes. These include: the origin and evolution of the universe, co-evolution of biological, chemical, and physical processes, evolution of planets and other celestial bodies, and best-practices for human and robotic exploration of space.

Cosmology, Astronomy, and Astrophysics

SESE is home to one of the world's leading centers for observational and theoretical research in astronomy and astrophysics. This includes over a dozen faculty members, and over half a dozen other Ph.D. astronomers and astrophysicists (research staff and postdocs), and (typically) about 20 graduate students. Our research interests range from the Solar System to stars, to the Milky Way, to the most distant galaxies in the Universe, and from cosmology to fundamental questions of astrobiology.

We have access to state-of-the-art facilities: 1) World-class telescopes and instrumentation for the sub-mm, radio, infrared, and optical 2) An interdisciplinary theoretical program, 3) Laboratories for the development of state-of-the-art instrumentation 4) Extensive computing facilities, including in-house parallel supercomputers. We also host a steady stream of visiting scientists. Astrophysics graduate students benefit from the low student-faculty ratio and extensive research opportunities in a supportive and friendly environment.

Learn more about our astrophysics undergraduate degree and the PhD in astrophysics. We also offer an undergraduate minor in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Send general astronomy questions to

Cosmology Initiative

The Cosmology Initiative at ASU is one of the largest and most comprehensive cosmology programs in the country. Current faculty study the Universe from its earliest moments to its far future, using experimental, observational and theoretical techniques, on topics ranging from inflation and black holes, to galaxy formation and 21 cm emission, to astrobiology.

Earth Sciences

The Earth Sciences focus area comprises a broad spectrum of field-, computational-, and laboratory-based research efforts, spanning all corners of Earth's surface, and from the upper reaches of the atmosphere to the depths of the inner core. As with all SESE themes, many research thrusts thrive through the interdisciplinary efforts of its researchers. Field-based exploration takes members of the SESE team from Yellowstone to Tibet to southern Africa, while SESE's world-class laboratories enable exploration and discovery from within. Computational facilities in SESE enable transformative discoveries through several in-house computer clusters, as well as extensive access to ASU's high-performance computing infrastructure. Arizona State earth sciences research experiences for graduates and undergraduates are fulfilling, leading students to publish their research in high-profile research journals, win awards at major international research meetings, and land top jobs in both academia and industry.

Planetary Sciences

Planetary scientists seek answers to fundamental questions that involve the extended family of planets, moons, asteroids, and other bodies in the Solar System. Chief areas of planetary research at SESE include Mercury, the Moon, Mars, meteorites, and Jupiter's moon Europa. SESE scientists are engaged in exploring these objects' geological processes and histories, plus their chemical and mineralogical composition. Researchers are currently principal investigators or co-investigators for instruments on spacecraft at Mercury, Mars (both in orbit and on the ground), and, shortly, the Moon. Other SESE research in planetary science explores the origin and evolution of life on Earth and the potential for life outside it, for example on Mars and Europa. SESE's laboratory faciltiies for analyzing meteorites and extraterrestrial samples are among the world's finest and most up to date.

Undergraduate students looking to pursue a career in astrobiology are encouraged to look at our Astrobiology and Biogeosciences concentration within the B.S. in Earth and Space Exploration.

A great resource is the Women in Planetary Science page.

Science Education

Many SESE faculty and staff members are involved in improving science literacy of students, teachers, and the general public, both regionally and worldwide. Their efforts include numerous outreach activities in local communities, such as teaching classes, running workshops, and leading field trips for K-12 teachers. Many SESE faculty, staff, and graduate students give talks to the general public on geology, astronomy, and meteorites. SESE faculty regularly appear on educational television shows, such as those for PBS and the Discovery Channel, and also are featured in continuously running videos at the American Museum of Natural History and the Arizona Science Center. Faculty have been actively involved in the development of content for science-oriented motion pictures, such as the MacGillivray-Freeman Films IMAX/IWERKS release Everest. SESE faculty hold leadership roles of education and outreach activities for the EarthScope Project and research and design activities for the Trail of Time at Grand Canyon National Park. Faculty have helped develop educational displays at national, state, and city parks, and have helped educate park rangers and docents at these parks. SESE operates the Robert S. Dietz Museum of Geology, which features geological and paleontological exhibits about the Southwest, and runs the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies, which has a display of meteorites; both exhibits are open to the public and receive hundreds of K-12 students each year. Astronomers at ASU lead programs at the ASU Planetarium and have open-house events where the public can peer through telescopes set up on the rooftops of ASU buildings. Many faculty maintain high-visibility websites, such as those on Arizona Geology and recent discoveries on Mars. Finally, SESE faculty have written textbooks for college classrooms, books for the general public, and articles in non-specialist science magazines, such as Scientific American.

Systems Engineering

Systems Engineering is SESE’s newest and fastest growing focus area. Through this initiative, we are building the capacity to design and build a wide array of instruments to enable scientific research on Earth and in space. Our research teams are involved in both component development and system integration. Current projects fall into three broad categories: astronomical instrumentation, sensors and cameras for remote sensing and in situ characterization of planetary surfaces, and microelectromechanical systems for a variety of terrestrial and space applications. Sound interesting? Check out our Ph.D. in Exploration Systems Design, or if you're an undergraduate explore our Exploration Systems Design concentration within the B.S. in Earth and Space Exploration degree.