Former Curator of Mineral Sciences

Medium shot of geologist Dr. Cara Santelli in white shirt, gray sweater and blue gloves at a microscope in her lab at NMNH.
Dr. Cara Santelli in her lab at the National Museum of Natural History.

Geologist Dr. Cara Santelli is a professor at the Newton Horace Winchell School of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, formerly a curator with the Department of Mineral Sciences at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Cara grew up on the “Iron Range” of northeastern Minnesota, a region famous for its banded-iron formations. As a child, she loved digging in the dirt outdoors and bringing home pockets full of rocks, each of which was unique and beautiful. She always knew she wanted to be a scientist or engineer, but did not realize that her future lay in geology until she took a mineralogy course as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin.

In 2007, Cara earned a doctorate in marine geomicrobiology through a joint program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and she joined the Smithsonian staff in 2010. She studies the impact of microbial activity on mineral formation, rock-weathering processes, and remediation of contaminated environments. One of the biggest thrills of her career was her dive 2.4 km (1.5 miles) underneath the Pacific Ocean in the deep-submergence vehicle Alvin. She still comes home from field excursions with pockets full of rocks.