Primary Investigators

George Cody

George Cody is a geochemist whose research focuses on devising a unified understanding of the controls on organic reactions within the solid Earth. He explores the roles that temperature, pressure, time, fluid composition, and mineral catalysis play in controlling organic reactions over time. Understanding these processes is a prerequisite to investigating larger issues that tie together the biological, physical, organic, and inorganic world of our planet. The mechanisms that govern natural organic synthesis and reactions are not restricted to Earth, however. The presence of significant quantities of organic molecules found in certain types of meteorites indicates that the range of viable environments for organic synthesis is extremely broad. In collaboration with others at Carnegie, Cody is working on questions pertaining to the extent of organic synthesis within the presolar nebula and the synthesis and reaction during the subsequent planetary accretion. His specific focus is to characterize the extraterrestrial organic matter within carbonaceous chondritic meteorites. If organic synthesis and reaction are necessary for the emergence of life, then the range and limits of organic stability and reaction need to be defined to set criteria for determining the probability of life on other planets and beyond our solar system. To study organic chemistry in this context, Cody has joined with others at Carnegie to form one of the first groups in NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. A wide range of analytical methods is required to study organic molecules in complex systems. Over the past several years Cody has worked on a particularly promising device that uses a one-of-a-kind soft x-ray transmission microscope based on a synchrotron source. He has been using this instrument to characterize the chemistry of cell wall membranes in plants and to follow the evolution of the chemical differentiation over geologic time as these materials transform into fossil fuels. Cody also led the effort at the Geophysical Laboratory to obtain a solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer—an instrument used by scientists at both the Geophysical Lab and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Broad Branch Road campus. Solid-state NMR has recently evolved into one of the most versatile and powerful tools in solid-phase chemistry. The new equipment is used to address fundamental questions in organic geochemistry as well as questions in many other ongoing research areas.

Shelley Copley

Shelley Copley is a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research interests center on the molecular evolution of enzymes and metabolic pathways and protein structure-function relationships. Dr. Copley is a member of the Council of Fellows of the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Dr. Copley served on the NSF Molecular Biochemistry Panel (1999-2003), was co-chair for the Gordon Conference on Enzymes, Coenzymes, and Metabolic Pathways (2004), and currently serves on the National Institutes of Health Genetic Variation and Evolution Study Section.

Nigel Goldenfeld

Nigel Goldenfeld holds a Swanlund Endowed Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with appointments in the Department of Physics and the Institute for Genomic Biology. He is a member of the Condensed Matter Theory group in the Department of Physics, and leads the Biocomplexity Theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology. Nigel received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1982, and for the years 1982-1985 was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara . Since 1985 he has been on the faculty at the University of Illinois, with sabbatical positions at Stanford University and the University of Cambridge. Nigel's research explores how patterns evolve in time; examples include the growth of snowflakes, the microstructures of materials, the flow of fluids, the dynamics of geological formations, and even the spatial structure of ecosystems. Nigel's interests in emergent and collective phenomena extend from condensed matter physics, where he has contributed to the modern understanding of high temperature superconductors, to biology, where his current work focuses on evolution and microbial ecology. Strongly committed to teaching, Nigel is well-known in the physics community for authoring one of the standard graduate textbooks in statistical mechanics, and is widely regarded as one of the most popular graduate-level lecturers in the Department of Physics. In 1996, Nigel took an entrepreneurial leave-of-absence to found NumeriX, the award-winning company that specializes in high-performance software for the derivatives marketplace. Nigel has been an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, a University Scholar of the University of Illinois, a recipient of the Xerox Award for Research, and a recipient of the A. Nordsieck Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. He is a member of the Editorial Boards of the International Journal of Theoretical and Applied Finance and Communications in Applied Mathematics and Computational Science and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Also see Goldenfeld's homepage at

Zan Luthey-Shulten

Professor Schulten received a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Southern California in 1969, a M.S. in Chemistry from Harvard University in 1972, and a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University in 1975. From 1975 to 1980 she was a Research Fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, and from 1980 to 1985 a Research Fellow in the Department of Theoretical Physics at the Technical University of Munich. She is currently working at the University of Illinois.

Harold Morowitz

Biophysicist Harold Morowitz became a Robinson Professor after a long career of teaching and research at Yale University as Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and serving for five years as Master of Pierson College. The author of several books, Morowitz has written extensively on the thermodynamics of living systems, as well as on popular topics in science. Included in those publications are Mayonnaise and the Origins of Life, Cosmic Joy and Local Pain, The Thermodynamics of Pizza, Entropy and the Magic Flute, and The Kindly Dr. Guillotin. In his current research, Morowitz is investigating the interface of biology and information sciences and continues his exploration of the origins of life. Other books are The Origin of Cellular Life: Metabolism Recapitulates Biogenesis and The Facts of Life (co-authored with James Trefil). He is Staff Scientist and former Director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study and former Editor-in-Chief of the journal Complexity. His book The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex was published in 2002 by Oxford University Press. Dr. Morowitz is principal investigator on the multi-institutional grant "From Geochemistry to the Origin of Life," which is centered at the Santa Fe Institute and includes George Mason University and four other research centers. Dr. Morowitz was featured in an article in the Mason Gazette:

Eric Smith

Eric Smith received the B.S. degree from Caltech in 1987, in Physics and Math, and the Ph.D. from U.T. Austin in 1993 in Physics. His research focus was high-energy and condensed-matter particle physics. From 1993 to 2000, he was employed at the Applied Research Laboratories: The University of Texas at Austin, and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. There he worked on physical and ocean acoustics, geophysics, and the materials science of geomaterials, with an emphasis on the acoustics of disordered or granular solids. He also studied self-organization in acoustic engines, in the hope of someday applying that work to biochemistry and the origin of life. Since 2000, he has been at the Santa Fe Institute, where he has studied a variety of problems of organization, in economics, cellular signal transduction, population dynamics, and biochemistry. His primary work has been the theory of ground states of dynamical systems. He also maintains an active interest in historical linguistics, automated pattern discovery, neuropsychology, and the development of concepts.

Carl Woese

Woese's studies of ribosomal RNA led him to conclude that there are three domains of life: eukaryotes, bacteria, and archaea. He determined that certain one-celled organisms long classified as bacteria -- including many species adapted to life in extreme environments such as hot springs and salt ponds -- instead form a distinct group in terms of both genetics and chemistry. Initially, Woese's revolutionary conclusions were met with a good deal of skepticism among biologists. But by the mid-1980s, a growing body of supporting evidence led to widespread acceptance of the archaea. In 2002 he challenged the long-standing Darwinian assumption known as the Doctrine of Common Descent -- that all life on Earth has descended from a single ancestral organism. Woese proposed that instead of one primordial form, there initially were at least three simple types of loosely constructed cellular organisms swimming in a pool of genes. The types evolved by horizontal gene transfer into the three distinct types of cells.