M. Darby Dyar

Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor of Astronomy; Chair of Astronomy; on leave 2020-2021
Minerals; minerals and health; Mössbauer spectroscopy; Mars; Moon; planetary science; optical spectroscopy; synchrotron spectroscopy; FTIR spectroscopy; metamorphic geology; water in minerals

The primary goal of Darby Dyar's research is to understand how hydrogen and oxygen are distributed throughout our solar system, particularly in terrestrial bodies such as the Earth, the Moon, Mars, and the parent bodies of meteorites. Dyar uses Mössbauer, reflectance, Raman, synchrotron, and LIBS spectroscopies. She studies rocks from diverse localities on Earth from the deep oceans to Antarctica, as well as lunar rocks and meteorite samples.

Dyar has written more than 260 papers in scientific journals and has been awarded more than $10 million in diverse grants from NASA and NSF. These include support for her participation on the Mars Science Laboratory science team; its calibration target was built at the College. She also serves on three of the eight NASA Solar System Exploration Virtual Institutes. She is pioneering development of novel machine learning techniques for interpretation of spectroscopic data. In 2016, Dyar received the G.K. Gilbert Award from the Planetary Geology Division of the Geological Society of America for outstanding contributions to the solution of fundamental problems in planetary geology. In 2017, she was honored with the Hawley Medal from the Mineralogical Society of Canada. In 2018, she received the Eugene Shoemaker Distinguished Scientist Medal from NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute for significant contributions to the field of lunar science. She is a Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, the Geological Society of American, and the Geochemical Society.

Dyar’s research program supports 6-8 Mount Holyoke undergraduate researchers in her Mineral Spectroscopy Laboratory each year, as well as other students from the Five College Astronomy Department. Those students work closely with research staff and post-docs at the College as well as several graduate students at the University of Massachusetts. Dyar and her students represent the College at various national and international conferences each year as well as various alumnae groups.

Recent Campus News

Darby Dyar, Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor of Astronomy, working with students in her lab

Darby Dyar honored by Wellesley College

Mount Holyoke College professor M. Darby Dyar is being awarded the Alumnae Achievement Award from her alma mater, Wellesley College. 

Darby Dyar, blond white woman in blue sweater seated at desk with three computer monitors and charts on the wall.

Life on Venus?

Mount Holyoke’s Darby Dyar talked to The Wall Street Journal about the recent discovery of phosphine gas in Venus’s atmosphere.


February at Mount Holyoke

February at Mount Holyoke featured Black History Month events, Princeton Review rankings, outstanding student-athletes and of course valentines.

This is photo of astronomy professor Darby Dyar in her lab. She is smiling, holds a tray of samples, standing in front of shelves with numbered trays stacked on them.

She boldly goes

Astronomy professor Darby Dyar uses real-world tricorders and a growing database of spectroscopic minerals signatures to identify minerals found in space.

Darby Dyar, blond white woman in blue sweater seated at desk with three computer monitors and charts on the wall.

Fresh batch of Apollo 11 moon rocks for Dyar

Mount Holyoke professor Darby Dyar discusses her work with moon rocks on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s launch. 

Recent Publications

Helbert, J., Maturilli, A., Dyar, M.D., and Alemanno, G. (2021) Deriving iron contents from past and future Venus surface spectra with new high temperature laboratory emissivity data. Science Advances, 7, eaba9428.

Wang, A., Yan, Y., Dyar, M.D., Houghton, J.L., Farrell, W.M., Joliff, B.L., McLennan, S.M., Shi, E., and Qu, H. (2020) Amorphization of S, Cl‐salts induced by Martian dust activities. Geophysical Research Letters, 125(12), e2020JE006701.

Dyar, M.D., Helbert, J., Maturilli, A., Müller, N., and Kappel, D. (2020) Probing Venus surface iron contents with six-band VNIR spectroscopy from orbit. Geophysical Research Letters, 47(23), e2020GL090497, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020GL090497.

Dyar, M.D., Helbert, J., Cooper, R.F., Sklute, E.C., Maturilli, A., Muleer, N.T., Kappel, D., and Smrekar, S.E. (2020) Surface weathering on Venus: Constraints from kinetic, spectroscopic, and geochemical data. Icarus, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2020.114139.

Ytsma, C.R., Knudson, C.A., Dyar, M.D., McAdam, A.C., Michaud, D.D., and Rollosson, LM. (2020) Accuracies of major, minor, and trace element quantification in rocks by portable laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (pLIBS). Spectrochimica Acta B.171, 105946.

Recent Awards

Named as a recipient of Wellesley College’s 2020 Alumnae Achievement Award.