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.


28 February 2019

Cold World Explorers

Cold World Explorers

by Fatima Husain Throughout their journeys in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), students and researchers alike investigate the mysteries of the planet. Fieldwork, a critical component of geological study, takes some researchers to the ends of the Earth, and occasionally to some of the coldest, most remote environments known to humankind.  […]

2 January 2019

Archiving Experiences in Science

Archiving Experiences in Science

by Fatima Husain In December, Summons Lab members Ainara Sistiaga and Fatima Husain conducted invited talks and activities for the semesterly Science and Us high school student workshop held at MIT, which brings approximately fifty students from around Massachusetts to campus for science enrichment activities. Sistiaga and Husain both shared their experiences in science, and […]