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.

News

24 October 2018

Addressing the Possibility of Life on Mars

Posted
Addressing the Possibility of Life on Mars

Mars expert John Grotzinger tells the story of exploration and the search for ancient life on the red planet at the 2018 Carlson Lecture. by Fatima Husain Story Image: John Grotzinger’s research focuses on interactions between life and environment, and tectonic and climatic regimes. (Vicki McKenna) In 2018, millions around the world caught glimpses of the planet […]

21 October 2018

The Power of Persistence and the Scientific Method

Posted
The Power of Persistence and the Scientific Method

Researchers identify a unique molecular fossil that tracks multicellular animal evolution. by Fatima Husain Evidence of ancient life on Earth is scattered around the globe. The most obvious examples of past life include visible fossils, preserved in sedimentary rocks in the geologic record, viewable in museums and paleontology laboratories alike. But the visible fossil record […]