Lisa M. Pratt

Lisa M. Pratt

Emeritus Provost Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Planetary Protection Officer, NASA


  • Ph.D., Geology, Princeton University, 1982
  • M.S., Geology, University of North Carolina, 1978
  • M.S., Botany, University of Illinois, 1974
  • B.A., Botany, University of North Carolina, 1972

Research interests

  • Geomicrobiology of sulfate-reducing microorganisms
  • Biotic and abiotic fractionation of sulfur isotopes in modern and ancient oceans and lakes
  • Influence of wildfire on carbon isotopic excursions during the Cretaceous
  • Fate of complex organic molecules on the surface of Mars

Research philosophy

The tradition in my research group is for students to learn through field and laboratory experiences involving ever-increasing levels of independence. My research group includes undergraduates, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers who work closely together to ensure the maintenance and calibration of instruments including gas chromatographs, ion chromatographs, and mass spectrometers. I am fortunate to be assisted by Ruth Droppo in graphic design and Ben Underwood in stable isotope mass spectrometry. These students and staff are the foundation of my scientific reputation. Every paper that I publish and every grant that I submit are a reflection of the people at Indiana University who work with me.

Recent research projects

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Shallow-Borehole Array for Measuring Greenland Emission of Trace Gases as an Analogue for Methane on Mars (GETGAMM) 2011-2016.

Previous funding from the National Science Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Institute support our studies of sulfur isotopic compositions of sulfide and sulfate in water samples collected at depths of 1 to 4 kilometers below the surface from gold mines in South Africa and the Canadian Arctic. Isotopic data are used to determine rates of microbial sulfate reduction and microbial sulfide oxidation in the deep subsurface. Combined with genomic data from collaborating microbiologists, sulfur isotopic data are evidence of an active deep-Earth microbial community. Pratt is director of the NASA Astrobiology Lead Team entitled Biosustainable Energy and Nutrient Cycles in the Deep Subsurface of Earth and Mars.

With previous funding from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, Pratt's research group has studied alkaline- and salt-tolerant bacteria and archaea in shallow lakes on the Oregon Basalt Plateau. Pratt (Geological Sciences) and Bauer (Biochemistry) collaborate on a project entitled Life at the Edge of Hydration. Results of field and laboratory experiments are used to assess dessication limits for microbial life on Earth and to evaluate the pathways for origination of life on a planetary body like Mars with severe water limitation.

Graduate student projects

  • Mohammad Alrowaie. Geochemical and Isotopic Signatures of Thermal Sulfate Reduction in Long-Term Hydrous Pyrolysis Experiments
  • Patrick Cavanagh. Efflorescence of gypsum and jarosite during exposure of sulfidic lacustrine sediment, Western Greenland

Undergraduate student projects

Tori Moore. DNA Sequencing of visually layered microbial mats: Relationships between microbes and minerals

Awards & Honors

  • National Association of Science Teachers, Shell Science Seminar Featured Speaker, 2015
  • Phi Beta Kappa Triennial Council Meeting, featured lecture, 2012
  • Fellow Geological Society of America, 2010
  • Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, 2009-2011
  • Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Alumni, Distinguished Faculty Member, 2003
  • American Association Petroleum Geologists, Eastern Section, Outstanding Educator, 2002
  • Association of Women Geoscientists, Outstanding Educator, 1997
  • Distinguished Lecturer, American Association Petroleum Geologists, 1990-1991
  • Matson Award American Association Petroleum Geologist, 1986
  • National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow 1982-1984

Recent advisory board activities

  • Member Executive Committee for Town Hall on Europa Lander Science Definition Team
  • Member Return Sample Science Board (2016-present)
  • Member NASA Planetary Science Subcommittee (2014-2017)
  • Trustee, Geological Society of America Foundation (2012-present)
  • Member NASA Mars Program Planning Group (2012)
  • Chair NASA proposal review, Geology Subpanel, participating scientists for Mars Science Laboratory (2011)
  • Chair NASA proposal review Mars Fundamental Research (2011)
  • Member Mars Panel National Research Council Planetary Science Decadal Survey (2009-2011)
  • Member NASA Planetary Science Subcommittee (2008-2009)
  • Member Review Board for Canada Research Chairs (2004-2008)