Dana E. Anderson

Dana Anderson

Caltech Planetary Science Ph.D. Candidate

Astrochemistry & Planetary Science Graduate Student



About Me

I am currently a Ph.D. student in Planetary Science at Caltech. My primary research interests involve astrochemistry and my thesis advisor is Prof. Geoff Blake. I perform both modeling and observations of circumstellar disks. My current focus is on the fate of carbon and nitrogen reserviors throughout disk evolution and the early stages of planet formation.


My research seeks to determine the availability of important chemical elements in disks of gas and dust around young stars, the birthplace of planets. This work addresses broader questions regarding the materials and conditions necessary to create our own solar system as well as the wide variety of planetary systems observed around other stars. By studying the chemistry of planet formation we hope to understand our own origins and the likelihood of forming Earth-like planets.

The Carbon Content of Terrestrial Planets

Despite the fact that carbon is among the most abundant elements in the universe, it is actually quite rare in the Earth. The Earth contains only 1 carbon atom for every 10,000 silicon atoms! Interstellar dust, the base ingredient for our planet, is carbon-rich in composition containing carbon atoms at a ratio of 6:1 relative to silicon. In its journey from dust to planet the Earth had to lose a lot of carbon. The fact that primitive meteorites are also carbon-poor relative to interstellar dust could indicate that at least a portion of the carbon loss occurred prior to their formation and therefore early in the planet formation process. For this reason, we investigate carbon chemistry in planet-forming regions known as protoplanetary disks. See below and my Publications page for more details.


Carbon & Nitrogen in Planet-Forming Regions

There is a discrepancy between the abundances of carbon and nitrogen incorporated into solid solar-system bodies. Meteorites and comets contain a lower fraction of the total available nitrogen compared to carbon suggesting that these elements did not share the same chemical and/or dynamical path throughout disk evolution. We explore these divergent carbon and nitrogen pathways by comparing the chemistry of protoplanetary disks of different ages.

Ongoing & Past Research Projects:

Disk Chemistry

Disk Evolution: Carbon & Nitrogen Species

We are currently exploring the fate of carbon and nitrogen species throughout disk evolution using a combination of modeling and ALMA observations. In the future, we hope to extend our knowledge from ALMA observations of the outer disk inward and explore the terrestrial-planet-forming regions of the disk with JWST.

Refractory Carbon in Protoplanetary Disks

We explored oxidation and UV photolysis as destruction mechanisms for the more-refractory component of carbon in protoplanetary disks. Both mechanisms were limited to the surface layers of the disk and were only effective on sub-micron dust grains. This figure provides a summary of where more than 90% of carbon can be released (mainly by UV photons) from the refractory phase for PAHs and different carbon grain sizes. Read more via my Publications section.

Interstellar Astrochemistry

"Missing" Sulfur in the Dense Interstellar Medium

The primary form of sulfur in the dense interstellar medium (ISM) is unknown. We used Spitzer observations to address this "missing sulfur" problem in the dense ISM. Read more via my Publications section.

Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS)

Measuring Salts on Mars with Curiosity (ChemCam/LIBS)

A wealth of data is being collected by the LIBS instrument, ChemCam, on the Martian rover Curiosity. Using an engineering model of the ChemCam instrument, we investigated its ability to detect and quantify carbonate, chloride, and sulfate salts in rock powder mixtures of Mars-like composition. Read more in the JGR Planets publication and LPSC abstracts on my Publications section. Nancy Thomas is currently applying these results to actual Mars data.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1144469. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Probing the Gas Content of Late-Stage Protoplanetary Disks with N2H+.
D. E. Anderson, G. A. Blake, E. A. Bergin, K. Zhang, J. M. Carpenter, K. R. Schwarz, J. Huang, K. I. Öberg.
Submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.

Destruction of Refractory Carbon in Protoplanetary Disks.
D. E. Anderson, E. A. Bergin, G. A. Blake, F. J. Ciesla, R. Visser, J.-E. Lee.
The Astrophysical Journal, 845, 13, 2017. ADS

Characterization of Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) emission lines for the identification of chlorides, carbonates, and sulfates in salt/basalt mixtures for the application to MSL ChemCam data.
D. E. Anderson, B. L. Ehlmann, O. Forni, S. M. Clegg, A. Cousin, N. H. Thomas, J. Lasue, D. M. Delapp, R. E. McInroy, O. Gasnault, M. D. Dyar, S. Schröder, S. Maurice, R. C. Wiens.
J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 122, 744, 2017. Open Access

New Constraints on the Sulfur Reservoir in the Dense Interstellar Medium Provided by Spitzer Observations of S I in Shocked Gas.
D. E. Anderson, E. A. Bergin, S. Maret, V. Wakelam.
The Astrophysical Journal, 779, 141, 2013. ADS


Characterization of hydrogen in basaltic materials with laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) for application to MSL ChemCam data.
N. H. Thomas, B. L. Ehlmann, D. E. Anderson, S. M. Clegg, O. Forni, S. Schröder, W. Rapin, P.-Y. Meslin, J. Lasue, D. M. Delapp, M. D. Dyar, O. Gasnault, R. C. Wiens, S. Maurice.
J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 123, 2018. Open Access

Unlocking CO Depletion in Protoplanetary Disks. I. The Warm Molecular Layer.
K. R. Schwarz, E. A. Bergin, L. I. Cleeves, K. Zhang, K. I. Öberg, G. A. Blake, D. Anderson.
The Astrophysical Journal, 856, 85, 2018. ADS

Herschel Observations of EXtraodinary Sources: Analysis of the HIFI 1.2 THz Wide Spectral Survey Toward Orion KL II. Chemical Implications.
N. R. Crockett, E. A. Bergin, J. L. Neill, C. Favre, G. A. Blake, E. Herbst, D. E. Anderson, G. E. Hassel.
The Astrophysical Journal, 806, 239, 2015. ADS

Herschel Observations of EXtraordinary Sources: Analysis of the Full Herschel/HIFI Molecular Line Survey of Sagittarius B2 (N).
J. L. Neill, E. A. Bergin, et al. (D. E. Anderson).
The Astrophysical Journal, 789, 8, 2014. ADS

Select LPSC Abstracts:

D. E. Anderson, B. L. Ehlmann, et al. Emission Lines Selected for the Identification of Chlorides, Carbonates, and Sulfates Dispersed in Basaltic Rock Using Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). 47th Lunar & Planetary Science Conference, March 2016, The Woodlands, TX.

N. H. Thomas, B. L. Ehlmann, S. M. Clegg, O. Forni, S. Schröder, D. E. Anderson, et al. Characterization of Hydrogen in Basaltic Materials with Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). 47th Lunar & Planetary Science Conference, March 2016, The Woodlands, TX.

D. E. Anderson, B. L. Ehlmann, S. Clegg. Quantification of Salt Anions Using Laser- Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). 46th Lunar & Planetary Science Conference, March 2015, The Woodlands, TX.

N. H. Thomas, B. L. Ehlmann, D. E. Anderson. Characterization of Hydrogen Abundance in LIBS Data. 46th Lunar & Planetary Science Conference, March 2015, The Woodlands, TX.


Education & Experience

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, 2012
Double Major in Chemistry & Interdisciplinary Physics

Research advisor: Prof. Ted Bergin
Astrochemical modeling, Herschel and Spitzer data analysis

NASA Glenn Research Center
Cleveland, OH

Summer Internship 2011

Mentor: Dr. Aloysius Hepp
Transition metal catalysts, SEM and EDX analysis

California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA

Ph.D., Planetary Science (in progress), Expected 2019
Master of Science, Planetary Science, May 2015
Thesis advisor: Prof. Geoff Blake
Secondary research advisor: Prof. Bethany Ehlmann

Observational Astronomy Experience:
 NRAO ALMA Data Reduction Visit, Feb. 2017
 CARMA Summer School 2014

Teaching Assistant Experience:
 Cosmochemistry, Ch/Ge 128 (Blake) Fall 2017
 Atomic & Molecular Processes, Ge/Ay 132 (Blake) Fall 2016
 Intro to the Solar System, Ge 103 (Brown) Spring 2016

Awards and Memberships:
 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2014-2017
 American Astronomical Society Junior Member, 2016-Present
 American Chemical Society Student Member, 2010-2016


AAS National Meeting 2019, Seattle, WA (Dissertation Talk)

Astrochemistry Past, Present, & Future (2018), Pasadena, CA (Talk + 3rd place Poster Prize :) )

The Origin of Galaxies, Stars, and Planets in the Era of ALMA (2017), Pasadena, CA (Poster)

The Origins of Volatiles in Habitable Planets (2017), Ann Arbor, MI (Poster)

Origins of Solar Systems GRC/GRS 2017, Mt. Holyoke College, MA (Poster)

Astrochemistry VII, Puerto Varas, Chile (Poster)

DPS/EPSC 2016, Pasadena, CA (Talk)

Linking Exoplanet and Disk Compositions Workshop, Baltimore, MD (Poster)

LPSC 2016, The Woodlands, TX (Poster)

AAS National Meeting 2016, Kissimmee, FL (Talk)

Origins of Solar Systems GRC 2015, Mt. Holyoke College, MA (Poster)

LPSC 2015, The Woodlands, TX (Poster)

MSL ChemCam Instrument Team Meetings 2014-2016
Pasadena, CA - Orsay, France - Flagstaff, AZ (Talks)

On Campus:

Caltech Planetary Science Seminar 2015, 2016, 2017 (Talks)

Yuk Lunch Seminar (Talk)

Caltech Graduate Research Spotlight 2017, 2018 (Posters)

Return to Publications

Contact Me


Dana Anderson
Current Address: (Caltech)
  MC 150-21
  1200 E. California Blvd.
  Pasadena, CA

Powered by w3.css