phone (617) 452 2791

Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
E25-633, 45 Carleton Street
Cambridge, MA 02139


Roger on his first dive in the submersible Alvin, 2008

Research interests

I am interested in biogeochemistry and geobiology with the following themes:

  • lipid chemistry of geologically significant microbes and microbially dominated ecosystems
  • organic and isotopic indicators of climate change, biotic evolution and mass extinction
  • age- and environment-diagnostic biomarkers in sediments and petroleum
  • Archean, Proterozoic and extraterrestrial biogeochemical fossils

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people, and have a hand in all the research going on in the MIT Geobiology lab.

Professional preparation

  • Australian National Univ. Chemistry Postdoctoral Fellow 1973-1975
  • Stanford University Genetics Fellow in Genetics 1972-1973
  • University of NSW (Wollongong University College) Chemistry PhD 1972
  • University of NSW (Wollongong University College) Chemistry BSc Honours Class 1 1969


  • Professor of Geobiology, MIT (2001-present)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society (2008)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Award (2008)
  • Fellow, Hanse Wissenschafts Kolleg, Delmenhorst, Germany (2008)
  • Fellow, American Geophysical Union (2006)
  • Halpern Medal, University of Wollongong (2005)
  • Treibs Award of the Geochemical Society (2003)
  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Science (1998)
  • Petroleum Explorationists Society of Australia, Australian Lecturer (1998)
  • Principal to Chief Research Scientist, Geoscience Australia (1987-2001)
  • Senior Research Scientist, Baas Becking Geobiological Laboratory (1983-1987)
  • Australian National Univ. RSBS Research Officer (1977-1983)
  • Australian National Univ. RSC Research Fellow (1975-1977)


  • Associate Editor Geochim. Cosmichim. Acta (1995-2006).
  • Member of Editorial Boards of Astrobiology, Geobiology & Paleoworld since inception;
  • Guest Investigator and Adjunct Scientist, WHOI (1999-2001)
  • Adjunct Professor, Applied Chemistry, Curtin University of Technology, Australia (2007-pres.)
  • Adjunct Professor, Earth Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia (1999-present)
  • Teach and develop courses for undergraduates and postgraduates in geobiology and organic geochemistry; Instruct and mentor graduate students and postdoctoral fellows
  • NSF Working group on Biogeosciences (2003)
  • NRC Committee on Origin and Evolution of Life (COEL 2003-6)
  • NRC Committee on Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems (LIMITS; 2005-7)
  • NRC Committee on Mars Astrobiology (2006-7)
  • NASA Astrobiology Institute Harvard-MIT-WHOI (1998-2003), NASA Astrobiology Institute
  • NASA Astrobiology Institute Ames Research Center (1998-present)
  • NASA Astrobiology Institute MIT (2007-present)


born Sydney, Australia, June 11th
family married to Elizabeth and proud father of Justine, Alice and Rebecca


…and I came here from Australia? What was I thinking…



A complete list of papers published through January 2014 can be found here.

A few recent papers:

Lee, C., Fike, D. A., Love, G. D., Sessions, A. L., Grotzinger, J. P., Summons, R. E., and Fischer, W.W. 2013. Carbon isotopes and lipid biomarkers from organic-rich facies of the Shuram Formation, Sultanate of Oman, Geobiology, doi: 10.1111/gbi.12045.

Leshin L.A., Mahaffy P.R., Webster C.R., Cabane M., Coll P., Conrad P.G., Archer, Jr. P.D., Atreya S.K., Brunner A.E. Buch A., Eigenbrode J.L., Flesch G.J., Franz H.B., Freissinet C., Glavin D.P., McAdam A.C., Miller K.E., Ming6 D.W. Morris R.V., Navarro-González R., Niles P.B., Owen T., Pepin R.O., Squyres S., Steele A., Stern J.C., Summons R.E., Sumner D.Y., Sutter B., Szopa C., Teinturier S., Trainer M.G., Wray J.J., and Grotzinger J.P., 2013. The First Volatile, Isotope and Organic Analysis of Solid Samples with the Mars Curiosity Rover: Insights into Martian Fines. Science, In Press.

Ricci J.N., Coleman M.L., Welander P.V., Sessions A.L.,  Summons R.E., Spear J.R. and Newman D.K., 2013. Diverse capacity for 2-methylhopanoid production correlates with specific ecological niches.  ISME J, In Press.

Schubotz F., Meyer-Dombard D.R., Bradley A.S., Fredricks H.F., Shock E.L., Hinrichs K.-U., Summons R.E., 2013. The Lipid and Isotopic Compositions of Streamer Biofilm Communities in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. Geobiology, published online: 28 Aug 2013 | DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12051.

Lincoln, S. A., Bradley, A. S., Newman, S. A., and Summons, R. E., 2013, Archaeal and bacterial glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether lipids in chimneys of the Lost City Hydrothermal Field: Organic Geochemistry 60, 45-53.

Summons R.E., Bird L.R., Gillespie  A.L., Pruss S.B., Roberts M. and Sessions A.L., 2013. Lipid biomarkers in ooids from different locations and ages: evidence for a common bacterial flora Geobiology 11, 420–436.

Welander P.V. and Summons R.E., 2012. Discovery, taxonomic distribution and phenotypic characterization of a gene required for 3-methylhopanoid production.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 109, 12905-12910.

Glass K., Ito S., Wilby P.R., Sota T., Nakamura A., Bowers C.R., Vinther J., Dutta S., Summons R.E., Briggs D.E.G., Wakamatsu K., and Simon J.D., 2012. Direct chemical evidence for undegraded eumelanin pigment from the Jurassic Period. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), published online ahead of print May 21, 2012.

Algeo T., Henderson C., Ellwood B., Rowe H., Elswick E., Bates S, Lyons T., Hower J.C., Smith C., Maynard B., Hays L.E, Summons R.E., Fulton J., and Freeman K.H., 2012. Evidence for a diachronous Late Permian marine crisis from the Canadian Arctic region. Geological Society of America Bulletin doi: 10.1130/B30505.1

French K.L., Tosca N..J., Cao C.-Q. and Summons R.E., 2012. Diagenetic and Detrital Origins of Moretane Anomalies in the Late Permian and Early Triassic. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 84, 104–125.

Hays L.E, Grice K., Foster C.B and Summons R.E., 2011. Biomarker and Isotopic Trends from a Permian-Triassic Sedimentary Section at Kap Stosch, Greenland. Organic Geochemistry 43, 67-82.

Waldbauer J.R., Newman D.K. and Summons R.E., 2011. Microaerobic steroid biosynthesis and the molecular fossil record of Archean life. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 108, 13409–13414. (Class I: Cozzarelli Prize – PNAS)

Allen, M.A., Burns, B.P., Neilan, B.A., Jahnke, L.L. and Summons, R.E., 2010. Lipid biomarkers in Hamelin Pool microbial mats and stromatolites. Organic Geochemistry 41, 1207-1218.

Tosca N.J., Johnston D.T., Mushegian A., Rothman D.H., Summons R.E. and Knoll A.H., 2010. Clay Mineralogy, Organic Carbon Burial, and Redox Evolution in Proterozoic Oceans.   Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 74, 1579-1592.

Doughty D.M., Hunter R.C., Summons R.E. and Newman D.K., 2009. 2-Methylhopanoids are maximally produced in akinetes of Nostoc punctiforme: geobiological implications. Geobiology 7, 524–532.

Sepúlveda J., Wendler J.E., Summons R.E. and Hinrichs K.-U., 2009. Rapid resurgence of  marine productivity after  the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event. Science 326, 129-132