ASU receives $1.5M Keck Foundation award to study the origin of Earth’s water

February 16, 2016

Arizona State University has received a $1.5 million award from the W.M. Keck Foundation’s  Science and Engineering Research Grant Program to study the origin of Earth’s water and hydrogen.   

The project, entitled "Water from the Heavens: The Origins of Earth’s Hydrogen," will be headed by Principal Investigator and Regents’ Professor Peter Buseck, of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Molecular Sciences. Pair of diamonds used to squeeze a spherical carbon container Greatly enlarged pair of diamonds used to squeeze a spherical carbon container (shown schematically with a chicken-wire appearance) that will provide high pressures to the enclosed iron metal (show in red). Photo Credit: S.-H. Shim and Jun Wu. Download Full Image

“True to the Sun Devil spirit, Professor Buseck’s team proposal was ambitious in scope, innovative in approach, and ripe with transformative potential. We are delighted to see the Keck Foundation’s decided endorsement of this attempt to tackle one of the most intriguing controversies in planetary genesis,” says CLAS Natural Science Dean Ferran Garcia-Pichel.

Buseck and his team will seek to answer the fundamental question of where the water on Earth originally came from. The path to understanding this leads to experiments that measure how hydrogen behaved among the metallic elements in the core and mantle of the early Earth.

 “The origin of Earth’s water and hydrogen is a long-debated, yet unsolved mystery,” says Buseck.  

While current models dismiss the theory that a significant source of hydrogen is from the early Earth’s gas cloud, the team’s theory, referred to as the “ingassing hypothesis” would require that substantial amounts of hydrogen be removed from the mantle and stored in the core. This has not been an easy theory to test, however, because of the complexity of simulating the extreme pressure and temperature deep within Earth.

To overcome these challenges, Buseck and his team have developed breakthrough high-pressure techniques using transmission electron microscopes and diamond-anvil cells, both located on the ASU Tempe campus. If successful, the method would significantly advance high-pressure technology.

“Support for the hypothesis would be a cosmochemical game-changer, potentially shifting the framework of our understanding of the origin of water, noble gases, and other volatiles on Earth and rocky exoplanets,” says Buseck. “This could have significant consequences for our understanding of planetary habitability.”

The Experiment team is led by Buseck and Assistant Research Professor Jun Wu, with Associate Professor Sang-Heon Shim and Associate Research Professional Kurt Leinenweber.

The Analysis team is led by Assistant Research Scientist Stephen Romaniello and President’s Professor Ariel Anbar, along with Regents’ Professor and Center for Stable Isotopes Director Zachary Sharp at the University of New Mexico.

The Theory team is led by Professor Steven Desch and Foundation Professor Linda Elkins-Tanton.

ASU is one of only six universities this year to receive a Keck Foundation award in the Science and Engineering Research Grant category. 

The W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company. Mr. Keck envisioned a philanthropic institution that would provide far-reaching benefits for humanity, supporting pioneering discoveries in science, engineering and medical research.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


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Worried about home-grown jihadist? Harm from U.S.-bred terrorists is low.
Peter Bergen: U.S. has contained threat of outside terrorism attacks.
February 16, 2016

Peter Bergen tells ASU audience that terrorist stereotypes, assumptions are inaccurate

Many historians consider the 1970s the “golden age of terrorism.”

This is when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. It’s the decade that the Irish Republican Army led a bombing campaign throughout London during “The Troubles.” Throughout those ten years several jihadist terrorists dominated worldwide headlines with hijackings, bombings and planned explosions.

At the time the common perception was terrorism was real, though something that would never cross over our borders. Decades later, in our plugged-in, post-9/11 world, terrorism hasn’t just entrenched itself among us, it’s just a mouse click away. 

This is according to Peter Bergen, a Professor of Practice in Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies and co-director of the Center on the Future of War. Bergen presented “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists” Tuesday evening at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as part of the Center on the Future of War Spring Speaker Series. 

The presentation was based on Bergen’s latest book of the same name, which examines the phenomenon of why Americans become jihadists, how our government is dealing with these threats and the scars it has left on our collective national psyche.

“Most of the lethal attacks on citizens after 9/11 have been from American residents and very few are refugees,” Bergen said. “Most of them are as middle-class as you can think of … this is an American phenomenon.” 

He said many of America’s homegrown terrorists are recruited through social media, online magazines and the virtual jihadist community. 

“It used to be that recruitment took place in a mosque or at a terrorist training camp,” Bergen said. “Now you’re getting it in your own bedroom.”

Man lecturing a crowd.

Peter L. Bergen lectures on terrorism in America
at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass
Communication in downtown Phoenix on Feb. 16, 2016.
Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The national security analyst at CNN said that of the 330 militants he studied over a two-and-a-half year period a large percentage of them broke the stereotype of the young, disenfranchised 20-something. Bergen said that a large majority are well-educated, a third are married and have children, come from middle-to-upper class homes and their rates of mental illness are lower than the general population.

“They’re not crazy or are career criminals, they’re not insane, they’re not maladjusted and so why did they choose this idealogy?” Bergen said. “In some ways, getting to the why question is still very hard.”

Especially when terrorists like Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who plotted and executed the Boston Marathon bombings, had almost every opportunity afforded to them in this country despite some personal disappointments.

“Most people have family issues and problems but don’t murder innocent people,” Bergen said. “Perhaps that’s the nature of evil … it’s sort of inexplicable.”

Bergen said recent high-profile attacks such as the 2009 Fort Hood (Texas) shootings or the San Bernadino, California, massacre last year have 80 percent of all Americans fearing they or their family members will be killed in a terrorist attack. He said those fears, while very real and visceral, should be kept in check. Bergen said Americans residents are 3,000 times more likely to be killed by a fellow countryman armed with a gun than by a jihadist. 

“Each year three people die as a result of jihadist terrorism and that’s an extraordinarily low figure,” Bergen said. “Compare that with 10,000 Americans who kill each other with guns for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with ideology,” Bergen said. “That’s a sad commentary on American gun violence in this country.”

Bergen said the U.S. government has done an excellent job protecting the country from terrorist attacks since 9/11 by bolstering our national defense, improving communication between the FBI and CIA, forming the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center and increasing role of local law enforcement. He also credits a vigilant public.

“Most terrorists are not going to try and bring a gun or a bomb on an American plane. That avenue more or less has been closed off for terrorists,” Bergen said. “The fact is we’re a pretty hard target.”