John M. Eiler

California Institute of Technology

Election Year: 2016
Primary Section: 15, Geology
Secondary Section: 16, Geophysics
Membership Type: Member


John Eiler is a geologist and geochemist specializing in the distribution of the stable isotopes among natural materials. His research group is best known for developing the study of natural molecules containing two or more rare isotopes — a rare but ubiquitous family of species that give rise to a variety of applied geochemical tools. Eiler was raised in Madison, Wisconsin, attended Beloit College before moving to the University of Iowa, where he earned a BS in Geology. He received his PhD in Geology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow in stable isotope geochemistry at Caltech, where he joined the faculty in 1994. He is a recipient of the Day medal, Epstein medal, Macelwane medal, and Mineralogical Society of America young scientist award, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

John Eiler’s research group focuses primarily on developing technologies for determining the isotopic structures of natural molecules (i.e., the proportions of molecular forms having different numbers and/or sites of rare-isotope substitutions), and applying those technologies to understand the chemical physics of isotopes and to solve applied problems in Earth history, environmental science, and planetary science. Advances stemming from this research include a new class of geothermometers based on measuring the proportions of doubly-substituted isotopic forms of molecules and mineral formula units, particularly for carbonate minerals and methane. These tools have provided new insights into the body temperatures of dinosaurs, Earth’s climate in the distant geological past, the rates of elevation change in mountain belts, thermal histories of rocks from Mars and primitive asteroids, and the origins of thermogenic and biogenic natural gas. Ongoing developments focus on the technologies for and applied uses of measurements of diverse isotopologues of organic molecules, with applications in the natural and applied sciences.

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