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Research Programs


Caltech's geologists focus on a field- and laboratory-based approach to understanding tectonic, petrologic, climatic, and surface processes. Opportunities for field study and research in the earth sciences in Southern California and other localities around the world are abundant, and faculty and students often venture out of the laboratory to investigate firsthand scientific questions about the evolution of the earth.

            Geology Areas of Focus:


Caltech's geobiologists study the impact of life on the chemical and physical evolution of our planet, and the way global changes in the surface environment of the earth have imprinted themselves on the planet's genetic and molecular systems. Investigators look at everything from the molecular microbial ecology of organisms involved in elemental cycles, to isotopic and molecular methods that relate microorganisms to biogeochemical processes, to reactions of organic materials to both modern and ancient environments.

            Geobiology Areas of Focus:

  • Molecular microbial ecology
  • Isotope biogeochemistry
  • Lipid biomarkers
  • Paleomagnetism
  • Astrobiology


Caltech's geochemists investigate the distribution of chemical elements on and in the earth and the solar system in order to develop methods to date their geological processes, to discover and examine the chemical composition of terrestrial and extraterrestrial materials, and to study chemical reactions in the interior of the earth as well as at its surface and in the rest of the solar system.

            Geochemistry Areas of Focus:

  • Atmospheric chemistry
  • Chemical petrology
  • Environmental geochemistry
  • Stable isotope geochemistry
  • Mineralogy


Caltech's geophysicists utilize large-scale computational facilities and easily accessible digital data to further our understanding of traditional geophysical concepts and to produce new insights into the dynamic processes of the earth. Seismic activity in Southern California and significant earthquakes around the globe stimulate studies into the physics of the earthquake process and its role in tectonics.

            Geophysics Areas of Focus:

Planetary Sciences

Caltech's planetary scientists are expanding our breadth of understanding of the earth and its place in the cosmos through the comparative study of other planets—their atmospheres, surfaces, and internal structures. Early solar and presolar history is being studied by seeking the connection between residual planetary materials and the physical processes within the solar nebula and the interstellar medium that is precursor to such nebulae.

            Planetary Science Areas of Focus:

  • Planetary surfaces
  • Planetary astronomy
  • Planetary atmospheres
  • Mars sedimentology

Environmental Science and Engineering

Caltech's environmental scientists and engineers are advancing research that addresses issues of air and water quality, past and potential future climate changes, and the dynamics of biogeochemical cycles and ecosystems. These research projects are pursued using laboratory studies of fundamental chemical and biological processes; field studies of soil microbiology and atmospheric chemistry; and computational modeling of chemical and physical processes on scales from the molecular to the global.

                  Environmental Science and Engineering Areas of Focus:

  • Global climate studies
  • Physical oceanography
  • Geophysical fluid dynamics
  • Atmospheric science
  • Weather and climate
  • Large-scale atmosphere dynamics