2017 Carnegie Science Venture Grant Benefits DCO Science

Comparing the rapid cooling of Mars to the slow cooling of Earth after both planets formed has profound implications for understanding Earth’s deep carbon cycle.

DCO Extreme Physics and Chemistry researcher Alexander Goncharov and his Carnegie Institution for Science colleague, modeler Peter van Keken, are joint recipients of a 2017 Carnegie Science Venture Grant. The award will support a unique collaboration where Goncharov’s novel methodology to generate experimental measurements of thermal conductivity will provide data necessary for van Keken to develop 3-D thermal evolution models of Mars and Earth’s Moon. Carnegie Science Venture Grants transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, partnering researchers from diverse backgrounds to creatively address pressing scientific questions. Each grant provides $100,000 support for two years and allows projects to evolve in unexpected ways.

Earth’s magnetic field relies on the molten metal in the planet’s outer core being constantly in motion, driven by heat flow. In the absence of a magnetic field, and without the plate tectonic processes caused by mantle convection, life on Earth wouldn’t exist. Earth would resemble the Moon or Mars, its nearest planetary neighbor. Because the rate of planetary cooling determines each planet’s internal structure and geologic activity, comparing how Earth and Mars cooled may reveal why Earth is geologically active today and Mars is not.

Goncharov’s laboratory research team developed an ultrafast laser instrument system that, with partial DCO funding, was modified for time-resolved measurements of optical properties of materials at high temperatures. This system allows researchers to analyze the physical and chemical properties of samples at high pressures and temperatures with unprecedented accuracy. Using this instrument system, Goncharov’s team will measure heat flow properties in different mineral samples, providing key information for van Keken to use in his mathematical models of planetary cooling.

Image: Peter van Keken (left) and Alexander Goncharov (right). Source.

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