Introducing Larry Nittler


Larry Nittler is a staff scientist in the Dept. of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. He is a cosmochemist and planetary scientist whose research interests span stellar evolution, nucleosynthesis, interstellar and interplanetary dust, meteorites, and the formation and evolution of planets. He earned a BA in Physics from Cornell University in 1991 and a PhD in Physics from Washington University in St. Louis in 1996. He has been on the Carnegie staff since 2001, following a postdoc at the Carnegie and two years as a staff scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center. His laboratory research focuses on isotopic and mineralogical properties of microscopic extraterrestrial materials including presolar grains in meteorites, interplanetary dust particles and spacecraft-returned samples, including solar wind and comet Wild 2 samples returned by the Genesis and Stardust missions, respectively. He also performs spacecraft-based remote-sensing geochemical research on planetary bodies. He led the analysis of X-ray fluorescence data for the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission, which orbited asteroid Eros in 2000-2001, and for the MESSENGER mission, which orbited Mercury from 2011-2015. He also served as Deputy Principle Investigator for MESSENGER. He is on the Science Team for the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo Mercury mission, to be launched in 2018, and is a Participating Scientist on JAXA’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample return mission. He received the Nier prize of the Meteoritical Society in 2001 and became a Fellow of the same society in 2010. Asteroid 5992 Nittler is named in his honor. In addition to his scientific research, Larry is a jazz pianist and composer who performs frequently with his soul-jazz group Dr. Nittler’s Elastic Soultastic Planet. He lives in Washington DC with his wife, physicist Rhonda Stroud, and their daughter and two cats.


Introducing Duncan Forgan

Dr Duncan Forgan is a postdoc at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He did his PhD and first postdoc at the nearby University of Edinburgh, where his focus was simulations of star and planet formation at very early epochs.

During his PhD he explored numerical approaches to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), which often makes headlines. He does his best to parlay this attention into public outreach, engaging with wide audiences from school kids to gamers to prisoners.

He is a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland, a diverse grouping of academics, civil servants and third sector workers gathered to answer the challenges facing Scotland in the 21st Century, and to be a voice for the young.

Duncan will be tweeting from California this week, as he visits the Berkeley SETI Research Center. He’ll still give a flavour of academic life in beautiful St Andrews, and his country life replete with chickens in the back yard, and nosey horses for neighbours.

Introducing Erika Nesvold

Erika Nesvold is a Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. She grew up in a military family and has lived on numerous army bases in the U.S. and Europe. After completing a B.S. in mathematics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she decided at the last possible moment to give astronomy a try, and moved all the way across the UMBC campus to complete an M.S. and Ph.D in the physics department. She did most of her graduate research at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, working with Marc Kuchner on developing a circumstellar debris disk model that included collisions between planetesimals. Now at Carnegie, Erika is continuing to develop and apply her debris disk models in collaboration with astronomers from Los Angeles to Boston. Erika currently lives just over the river in Alexandria, Virginia, and works every Sunday as a volunteer firefighter and EMT at the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company in Maryland, where she has been a member for nearly thirteen years. She also tweets (inconsistently) @erikanesvold and occasionally blogs for, a graduate student-run arXiv reader’s digest, and, a wellspring of fascinating stories from history, science, and the history of science.

Introducing Gal Sarid

Gal Sarid has recently joined the Florida Space Institute, at the University of Central Florida, as an associate scientist in planetary sciences (late 2014). Before moving to the Sunshine State he spent some time as a postdoctoral research associate in the Aloha State (Institute for Astronomy and NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Hawaii Manoa) and The People’s Republic of Cambridge (Earth & Planetary Sciences department at Harvard). He completed his PhD in Planetary Sciences (with a heavy background in physics and astronomy) at Tel Aviv University, Israel, overlooking the Mediterranean and working with Prof. Dina Prialnik.

He works on topics involving thermal and collisional evolution of planetary bodies (comets, asteroids and terrestrial planets) and early compositional evolution in the solar system. Most of his research focuses on relating thermo-physical, chemical and dynamical properties of various small body populations to their origin conditions and evolution pathways. The ultimate goal is to understand how planetary systems arrange themselves and promote habitable conditions.

With a general inquiring sense, Gal is willing and able to chat, collaborate and work on any interesting question in the realm of planetary physics. Now let’s discuss one of the more exciting times to be involved in space exploration!