Lindy Elkins-Tanton studies the formation and subsequent evolution of rocky planets. She was born and grew up in Ithaca, New York, and now splits her time between Arizona and Massachusetts. Elkins-Tanton received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from MIT. She was a researcher at Brown University, faculty at MIT, and a director at the Carnegie Institution for Science before moving to a directorship at Arizona State University. She is now the Principal Investigator of the NASA Psyche mission, ASU Vice President for the Interplanetary Initiative, and co-founder of Beagle Learning, a tech company training and measuring collaborative problem-solving and critical thinking. Elkins-Tanton has led four field expeditions in Siberia. She has been awarded the Explorers Club Lowell Thomas prize, and the NAS Arthur L. Day Prize and Lectureship. Asteroid (8252) Elkins-Tanton is named for her. She has been the Astor Fellow at Oxford University, and is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and of the American Mineralogical Society, and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Lindy Elkins-Tanton's research and work lies in three related areas: The physics and chemistry of terrestrial planetary formation and subsequent internal evolution, creation of effective interdisciplinary teams for maximizing discovery, and student-centered learning and the reformation of education for the Information Age. Using models and observations, she and her collaborators have explicated how the evolution of planetesimals (the building blocks of planets) includes partially differentiated and other complex compositional structures, explaining observations from meteorites and asteroids. Her work on the accretion of rocky planets shows that rocky planets everywhere are likely born habitable: Even the magma ocean stages of terrestrial planet formation retained sufficient water to create habitable planets without additional water delivery. On the Earth, she and her team confirmed that the Siberian flood basalts caused the end-Permian extinction: The magmatism released carbon, sulfur, and halocarbons sufficient to drive catastrophic global climate change, and the flood basalts began with a world-record volume of volcaniclastics, many burning a significant coal volume. Finally, the Beagle Learning team has shown how the productivity of research questions can be rated using a rubric and scored successfully by artificial intelligence.

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Primary Section

Section 15: Geology

Secondary Section

Section 16: Geophysics