ESE laboratories and facilities are housed in the Linde+Robinson Laboratory for Global Environmental Science and in other nearby buildings of Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences. The laboratories are equipped with a wide variety of state-of-the-art instruments.
Environmental Analysis Center
The Environmental Analysis Center houses analytical instrumentation for research that ranges from analyzing pollutants in groundwater to dating fossils. Its equipment includes instruments for inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, high-performance liquid chromatography, electrospray and atmospheric pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry, total organic carbon analysis, and capillary electrophoresis. Scientists from across the Institute use the EAC for cutting-edge analytical studies.
Environmental Chemistry and Technology Laboratory
In the Environmental Chemistry and Technology Laboratory, collimated sunlight from the Linde + Robinson solar telescope is focused into photolysis reactors, where artificial photosynthesis processes are developed to convert water and carbon dioxide into energetic fuels.
Geochemistry Clean Room
Measurements of trace metals in the environment and precise dating of corals and cave deposits all require extremely clean conditions for processing samples. The clean room, custom designed for this purpose, is unlike any built earlier. It has air cleansed of almost all particles and has been constructed entirely from non-metallic materials. Measurements of corals and stalagmites in it reveal how climate has varied in Earth's past and how carbon cycles between the biosphere, the atmosphere, and the oceans.
Geochemistry Instrument Lab
The instrument lab houses three inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers (ICP-MS). They are used to measure metal isotope ratios and Uranium-Thorium (U-Th) dates of samples that have been chemically processed in the clean room. They are also used to measure sulfur isotopes in the modern ocean and in ancient rocks to develop a quantitative understanding of how oxygen levels in the atmosphere have evolved over Earth's history.
The Biogeochemical Laboratories provide facilities and instrumentation for measuring the abundance, identity, and stable-isotope composition (including 2H, 13C, 15N, 18O, and 34S) of organic and inorganic constituents in a variety of environmental sample types, including organisms, water, sediments, and rocks.
The Atmospheric Chamber is designed for studies of the photochemical reactions of gaseous and particulate pollutants. In two large (1,000-cubic-foot) reaction chambers—the first of their kind when they were built—the chemical reactions that produce urban smog and atmospheric particles are investigated under precisely controllable conditions. They have revealed how the particles that make up smog form in the atmosphere. Research results obtained with them have been instrumental in designing effective air quality policies and in helping to understand the role of aerosols in climate.
Laboratory for Atmospheric Chemical Physics
In the Laboratory for Atmospheric Chemical Physics, the interactions of light with molecules in the atmosphere are investigated to elucidate how pollution forms and to measure the atmospheric concentration of aerosols and greenhouse gases. Techniques are developed for the global monitoring of the atmosphere from mobile ground-based laboratories and from space-based instruments.
High-Precision Spectroscopy Laboratory
The High-Precision Spectroscopy Laboratory is housed in a quiet room—a room with specially designed acoustic and electromagnetic insulation. Acoustic foam blocks sound waves and copper cladding around the entire room blocks electromagnetic waves. The noise-free environment allows us to achieve exquisite precision in laser measurements of radiative properties of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and atmospheric trace constituents: the properties of single molecules can be measured. The measurements are the basis for climate models and for planning satellite missions to measure the composition of the atmosphere from space.
Environmental Microbiology Laboratories
In the environmental microbiology laboratories, the diversity and metabolic activities of microorganisms from terrestrial and marine ecosystems are characterized through cultivation, microscopic imaging, metagenomics, and molecular and isotopic analysis. Researchers use an array of instruments, including anaerobic chambers, platforms for performing microfluidics-based analyses of the nucleic acid contents of environmental single cells, capillary sequencers, quantitative PCR, epifluorescence microscopes, and CAMECA secondary ion mass spectrometers available through the Center for Microanalysis.
GPS Computational Facility
The Geological and Planetary Sciences' supercomputing facility is used in computational modeling studies to interpret and explain data obtained in the laboratory and in field campaigns and to investigate computationally how the climate system responds to perturbations such as those owing to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants.
Additionally, Caltech collaborates with the Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey, California) Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies. This center operates research aircraft for atmosphere science studies, including a Twin Otter aircraft that carries state-of-the-art instruments to measure atmospheric aerosol and cloud properties in situ.