Geophysical sciences—planetary habitability

Advance understanding of planetary habitability and climate systems on Earth through time and Planets throughout the Milky Way

How did the Earth form and how did it evolve into the world we know? What role does life play in shaping a planet? Is there life beyond Earth? These are the fundamental questions geophysicists ask. Understanding planet habitability—the ability of a planet to develop and sustain life—is crucial to human existence here and the search for life out there.

The Department of the Geophysical Sciences studies the complex dynamics between life, rocks, oceans, and atmospheres on Earth, learning how a planet evolves as an integrated system.  Faculty and students develop models and carry out field work to discover the forces that have shaped the planet over its history and to understand how life has and will continue to respond to an ever-changing world.  These efforts guide governmental policies on climate, energy, and disaster preparation.  Further, models for this evolution are applied to exoplanets to determine potential habitability. Model predictions will be testable with increasingly powerful telescopic technology, working in tandem with the astronomy and astrophysics department. Geophysical sciences faculty also work closely with the chemistry department (the University of Chicago is widely considered the birthplace of cosmochemistry) and the Division of Biological Sciences. Researchers seek to identify and quantify the feedbacks that exist between Earth’s crust and its interior, its fluid atmosphere and oceans, and the evolving species it hosts.

The Department of the Geophysical Sciences aims to develop a program focused on planetary habitability that will leverage its diverse strengths and those of its sister departments. To this end, alumni and friends of the department can help to

  • endow named fellowships for postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, providing the intellectual freedom to pursue research that spans traditional disciplinary and funding agency boundaries;
  • establish an instrumentation fund to supply scientists with improved and newly targeted equipment to test hypotheses;
  • create a visiting scientist program to host collaborators.