Skip over navigation

Amy Barr Mlinar

Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences:
Geological Sciences
Phone: +1 401 863 2417
Phone 2: 401-863-5163

My research focuses on the formation and early evolution of planets, with a particular emphasis on planetary moons. Currently, I am researching the conditions of formation of Jupiter and Saturn's icy satellites and the early thermal evolution of Earth's moon. My work is theoretical and mathematical in nature; I develop and use computer models of planetary impacts and heat transfer to study how solid bodies form and evolve over time.


Amy earned a B.S. in Planetary Science from the California Institute of Technology in 2000, and a Ph.D. in Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences from the University of Colorado in 2004. After a brief postdoc at Washington University in Saint Louis, Amy spent five years on the staff of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO. She joined the faculty at Brown in 2011. Her research focuses on the formation and interior evolution of solid planets, with a special emphasis on planetary moons.


I am interested in how the planets and moons in our solar system form and how their interiors evolve over time. My key areas of interest are Earth's Moon and the icy bodies in the outer solar system. I use numerical and theoretical techniques to model processes that shape the interiors of solid planets, including hydrocodes to model impacts (local- and planetary-scale), and finite-element mantle convection models to study heat transfer inside solid planets. I also develop techniques to simulate core formation and planetary accretion.

Resurfacing on Outer Planet Satellites

A fundamental question in planetary science is why some planets show signs of endogenic (meaning, driven by interior forces) resurfacing and others don't. For rocky planets, their size and chemistry (chiefly, crustal water abundance) are thought to be key controlling factors. However, this is not the case for the icy moons in the outer solar system. For example, Saturn's moon Enceladus, with a radius of only 252 km, is presently active, with plumes of water ice erupting from a warm and tectonically active region in its south pole; whereas Jupiter's moon Callisto, with a radius 10x larger, appears to be geologically "dead". Resurfacing on the outer planet satellites seems to be controlled by tidal flexing and heating; energy contained in the orbits of the satellites is converted to heat by unknown processes. I am interested in determining the interior processes responsible for tidal heating in solid bodies and the factors that permit resurfacing on tidally heated icy moons. Read more here... and here...

The First Billion Years of Solar System History

The surfaces and interiors of solid planets record subtle clues about the conditions of their formation. In the inner solar system, the composition of the primary crusts of the rocky planets is heavily dependent on the amount of melting in their interiors during formation, which in turn depends on the timing, duration, and environment of their formation. In the outer solar system, the interior states of the giant planet satellites hold clues about the conditions of their formation, which is controlled by the lifetime of the solar nebula. I am developing techniques to model the first few million years of thermal evolution inside solid planets to learn how and when the planets formed. Read more here... and here... and here...

Formation of Earth's Moon

The leading theory for the formation of Earth's Moon suggests that it formed due to a giant impact between a Mars-sized protoplanet and the early Earth. The impact produces a disk of molten rock and vapor, which eventually forms the Moon we see today. Although the giant impact is successful in explaining the size and orbit of the Moon, it cannot readily explain the chemical similarities between the Earth and Moon. I am using numerical models of planetary impacts to determine the extent of melting and chemical mixing between the two bodies during the giant impact and explore alternate formation scenarios. Read more...

Persons interested in pursuing research in my group may contact me directly by e-mail: amy_barr(at)brown(dot)edu


NASA Early Career Fellowship, 2007
NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship, 2001-2004
Fritz Burns Prize in Geology, California Institute of Technology, 2000


Trustee, The Summer Science Program, Inc.
American Geophysical Union
American Astronomical Society


Spring 2011, Geol 2870: Titan and Enceladus, a seminar class focusing on new discoveries about Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus. We address two fundamental questions about the geological and geophysical evolution of each of these bodies using new results from instruments onboard the Cassini spacecraft: (i) Is Titan geologically and geophysically alive or dead? (ii) How does Titan's global volatile cycle sculpt its surface? (iii) Does Enceladus have an ocean today? (iv) What is the driving force for plume activity in the south polar terrain?

Fall 2012, 2013, Geol 1950G: Astrophysical and Dynamical Processes in Planetary Science, will teach students how to use physical and geophysical analysis to construct a quantitative understanding of the formation and evolution of the Sun, the solar system's planets and small bodies, and extrasolar planets. The goal is to provide senior undergraduates and graduate students with a set of core facts and current theories about planetary science. Lectures, problem sets and exams will be used to construct a quantitative framework on which the students can evaluate, and place into context, hypotheses and theories discussed in upper-level courses.

Spring 2014 Geol 2870: Extrasolar Planets, focuses on the study of planets outside of our solar system, which is an emerging area of research in planetary science. Students will use their knowledge of solar system astrophysical, geological, and geophysical processes to understand how extrasolar planets and systems different from our own might have formed and evolved, and how to place our solar system in context with those discovered so far. The emphasis of the course will be placed on the processes at work during the formation and evolution of planets and their systems rather than on individual planets or astronomical detection methods.

Funded Research

The research described here is supported by NASA.

Web Links

Curriculum Vitae

Download Amy Barr Mlinar's Curriculum Vitae in PDF Format