Curtis Williams received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Geological Sciences from Indiana University before enrolling in the Ph.D. program at ASU. As a a student in the School of Earth & Space Exploration, working with CMS Director Wadhwa, Curtis is interested in the formation of our planet and the possibility of forming habitable planets elsewhere. He studies meteorites to infer how our region of the universe progressed through an evolutionary sequence involving the formation and chemical evolution of the galaxy, and gravitational collapse of a molecular cloud, followed by Solar System formation and accretion of planetary-sized bodies. Curtis believes that increased knowledge of the pathways to forming habitable planets is central to our understanding of whether we are alone in the universe.
Curtis’ research focuses on components found within chondritic meteorites that sample various aspects of this evolution. He is currently investigating the chemical and isotopic composition of calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs). CAIs are predicted by thermodynamic calculations to be the first phase to condense out of a gas of Solar composition during cooling from high temperatures and, indeed, are extremely old (~4.567 Ga). They exhibit isotopic compositions suggestive of inheriting presolar components from the interstellar medium. Recently, Curtis has developed a technique to measure nucleosynthetic anomalies (as recorded by Ti isotopes) in CAIs by laser ablation multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS). He has employed this technique to measure the Ti isotopic composition of several suites of CAIs. Comparison of these datasets with chemical evolution models of the galaxy show that an additional nucleosynthetic source may be required to explain the initial composition of the Solar System. This is critical knowledge when discussing the ubiquity of forming habitable planets such as Earth.
Williams has also identified a new FUN CAI (designated CMS-1) that displays Fractionated and Unknown Nuclear effects. CMS-1 has provided remarkable information regarding physical and chemical processes occurring in the early Solar System. In addition to its anomalous Ti isotopic composition, Curtis has shown that CMS-1 formed under nebular conditions (e.g., log fO2 ~10^-19) and, prior to being melted, represents one of the first solids to condense from nebular gas of Solar composition. He has also revealed, through the measurement of mass-dependent fractionation of the relatively volatile elements (Si, Mg and O), that discrete heating events resulting in the evaporation of chondritic components played an important role in chemically differentiating the early Solar System. In the near future, Curtis plans to obtain a uranium isotope-correct Pb-Pb date for CMS-1, which would be the first absolute date determined for any FUN CAI.
Curtis continues to pursue additional constraints on the formation of habitable planets through the analytical and numerical study of the Solar System and its constituent components. He has investigated the chemical composition of Martian meteorites in order to provide key constraints on the origin and evolution of the Martian volatile cycle. He has also used numerical models of mantle convection to better constrain rates of mantle mixing within the Earth and the preservation of mantle heterogeneities over Earth’s history.
Curtis’ long-term career goal is to become a faculty member at a research university. As such, Curtis hopes to advance our understanding of the formation and evolution of habitable planets, and train the next generation of earth and planetary scientists. He also hopes to pursue outreach programs within the local community and, as someone with Native American heritage, to encourage and excite underrepresented groups to become more involved with science, technology, engineering, and math.
In July of 2014, Curtis successfully defended his dissertation and obtained his Ph.D. from Arizona State University's School of Earth & Space Exploration. Dr. Williams is currently continuing his research as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, at the University of California, Davis.