Nicolas Dauphas, Assistant Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, has received a 2007 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. As one of 20 new Science and Engineering Fellows of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Dauphas will receive an unrestricted research grant of $625,000 over five years.
“My interests are closely tied to the question of origins,” said Dauphas, a cosmochemist. “How did matter expelled from the successive generations of stars contribute to shaping the cosmic abundances of the elements? How and when did solar system bodies such as planets, asteroids and comets form? How did the Earth become a habitable planet?”
To address these questions, Dauphas analyzes chemical elements and their isotopes, which exhibit subtle variations in their composition. He works especially with iron isotopes for clues regarding the environment as it existed early in Earth’s history. All iron atoms have 26 protons at their core, but the various isotopes of iron contain a varying number of more numerous neutrons.
Dauphas’ long-term goal is to establish iron isotopes as a means of identifying the existence of life or chemical reactions that played a critical role in the formation of life early in Earth’s history.
The Packard Foundation, of Los Altos, Calif., was created by David Packard, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, and Lucille Packard. The Packard fellowship program was established in 1988, arising out of David Packard’s commitment to strengthening university-based science and engineering programs.