About the Summons Lab

We study organic matter from microbes, environmental samples, and from some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Ancient rocks and oils contain a rich abundance of hidden information within, including molecular and isotopic signatures of the organisms that existed at the time the organic matter was formed. The goal of our research is to extract and interpret these signals in order to reconstruct ancient environments, understand how life evolved within them, and elucidate the foundations of complex life.

Such interaction of the geosphere and biosphere is how we define the field of geobiology. Through this study, we hope to obtain a better understanding of the timing and context of oxygenic photosynthesis (about 3 billion years ago), the conditions that led to the appearance of complex animal life on earth, and the causes of major mass extinction events. The techniques we develop might eventually help us detect signs of life on other planets, the science known as Astrobiology. Our lab is primarily funded by the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life (SCOL).

Accelerated Solvent Extractor Accelerated Solvent Extractor

The ASE extracts solid and semisolid samples with liquid solvents at elevated temperatures and pressures for increased efficiency.

Gas Chromatographs Gas Chromatographs

Gas chromatography is the main technique we use to separate out the individual components of very complex mixtures.

High Resolution Mass Spectrometer High Resolution Mass Spectrometer

The autospec combines the separating power of gas chromatography with the sensitivity of mass spectrometric detection.

Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer

Stable isotope analysis for many different types of substances—organic matter, carbonates, gases and individual organic compounds.

Agilent 6000 Series HPLC-MS Agilent 6000 Series HPLC-MS

High Pressure Liquid Chromatography separates compounds, a Quadrupole Time-of-Flight mass spectrometer identifies lipids.

Lab Tour Lab Tour

Click here to venture on a virtual, photographic tour of the Summons lab, its facilities, and instruments.


16 May 2019

Highlighting Women in Geobiology at MIT: Dr. Jessica Whiteside

Highlighting Women in Geobiology at MIT: Dr. Jessica Whiteside

Current Role: I am an associate professor of geochemistry at the University of Southampton, based in the National Oceanography Centre in Southern England. I specialize in molecular paleontology, that is, I use fossil chemical fingerprints as clues to ancient ecologies and environmental change. Years in the Summons Lab: I was in the Summons lab in […]

9 May 2019

Highlighting Women in Geobiology at MIT: Dr. Katherine French

Highlighting Women in Geobiology at MIT: Dr. Katherine French

Story Caption: Dr. French with Dr. Emily Matys, another graduate of the Summons Lab. Current Role: I am currently a research geochemist in the Central Energy Resource Science Center at the USGS in Denver, CO. I apply molecular and isotopic geochemistry to petroleum system research. Years in the Summons Lab:I was a Ph.D. student in […]