November 2018 Letter from the Director

DTM postdocs and scientific, technical, and admin staff gathered on Oct. 1, 2018 for the annual group photo at the BBR campus. Photo: Mike Colella.
Friday, December 07, 2018 

November saw the biannual meeting of the Board of the Carnegie Institution. This year, following a day of meetings on the BBR campus, the Trustees joined us in a poster presentation by postdocs from all Carnegie departments coupled with a reception in the Tuve dining hall. We were extremely pleased that two research groups from our campus were selected to present their work at the next days' Board meetings held at P-Street. First up was the Habitability Project, a broad-based effort headed by GL's Anat Shahar and DTM's Peter Driscoll and Alycia Weinberger. The project will investigate the role that a solid planet plays in establishing conditions conducive to the development and sustainment of life. The project combines many aspects of the expertise on campus, including a combination of observations, experiments and theoretical approaches to understand how the composition of a planet influences its evolution, how that composition originates through the process of planet formation, and how these combine to determine and control the surface environment to provide the ingredients necessary for life.

One component of the project, to be pursued by Peter Driscoll, is theoretical studies of the thermal evolution of planetary interiors and the conditions necessary to create magnetic fields that shield the planetary surface from harmful stellar radiation. The importance of magnetic fields for planetary evolution was made clear in Peter Driscoll's sold out Neighborhood Lecture on November 8. We continue to be pleased about the reception these lectures receive from our campus neighbors who routinely fill the auditorium and stick around for a good time after the lecture to drill the speaker with good questions.

DTM's newest staff scientist, Hélène Le Mével, also was chosen to present her work to the Board. Hélène combines geodetic techniques and geodynamic modelling to decipher the events occurring beneath restless volcanoes. Her work is an important component of our growing effort in observational geophysics that addresses problems ranging from the physical processes leading to volcanic eruptions, to broader-scale questions of the dynamic behavior of the solid Earth. Additional work on this theme includes the seismic imaging of plate subduction by Lara Wagner and the theoretical work of Peter van Keken that investigates the thermal and mineralogical structure of subducted plates and the way this process carries crustal materials into Earth's deep interior. These studies couple well with the geochemical study of modern volcanism and samples of Earth's interior done by Steve Shirey and myself.

Along the exoplanet theme, November saw the report of the discovery of a planet orbiting Barnard's star, the second closest star and closest single star to the Sun. The discovery team included DTM's Paul Butler and Sharon Wang along with Observatories' Johanna Teske, Jeff Crane, and Steve Shectman. The planet is about three times the size of the Earth and far enough from its star to be very cold. An interesting aspect of this discovery is that Barnard's star does not suffer from the type of energetic flares discovered recently by DTM's Meredith MacGregor and Alycia Weinberger emanating from one of the closest stars to the Sun, Proxima Centauri. These flares likely make the surface of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, also discovered by Paul Butler and collaborators, a pretty inhospitable place for life.

Long-time BBR building staff member Pablo Esparza passed away on November 9, 2018.

Although DTM had much to be thankful for this year, which we celebrated with our annual all BBR potluck luncheon, we also have seen the loss of our colleagues Erik Hauri, John Graham, and Mike Seemann. Unfortunately, there is yet another sad event to report from November. Long-time member of the BBR building staff, Pablo Esparza, passed away. Pablo served a wide variety of roles within the BBR group during the 24 years of his employment at Carnegie. Pablo was proud of his Mexican heritage. When he used to go back and forth to his hometown (Taxco), he would bring back little silver gifts that were handcrafted by his brother, a talented silver jeweler. His daughter, Rosa Marie Esparza (Torres), worked at DTM as an Administrative Assistant from 1993-2002. BBR head Gary Bors relates a conversation he had with Pablo about whether he had a dog. Pablo said yes, a 'Miniature Golden Retriever', his 'baby doll' named Lucky. When Lucky appeared on campus with Pablo's wife, Angelica, Lucky turned out to be a Chihuahua! Pablo had a great sense of humor.

Richard Carlson, Director, DTM
Carnegie Institution for Science

November 2018 Newsletter