Geologist, Curator-in-Charge, Rock and Ore Collections

Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell leaning on a table in a lab with a machine and laptop computer on it. Other equipment in background.
Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell at the Advanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory. Photo from Smithsonian Institution.

Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell always loved chemistry, but it wasn't until her sophomore year in college when she took a planetary geology class that she realized she could apply her chemistry knowledge to huge systems like volcanoes and planets. She started doing research in the geology department and never looked back.

Her research is helping us understand how the interior of our planet has evolved. Volcanoes, she says, "are windows to the interior." The minerals in eruptions "contain coded messages, much like a message in a bottle. In cracking that code, I've been able to improve our understanding of how the plate-tectonic cycle, or continental drift, is oxidizing and hydrating the deep Earth, where the ocean floor is being dragged down into the Earth."

Elizabeth has an Sc.B. in geological sciences and geochemistry from Brown University and a Ph.D. in earth and environmental sciences from Columbia University. She has been at the Smithsonian since 2006.