Transformative Investment

Andrew Carnegie founded us to secure American leadership in scientific research in 1902.

Discovery Science

Carnegie President Vannevar Bush enshrined basic research in our national character in 1945.

A Legacy of Excellence

For more than a century, Carnegie has empowered visionary investigators to demonstrate intellectual courage, challenge conventional ideas, and transform the world.

Our Institution was established by Industrialist and pioneering philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to devote significant resources to exceptional individuals, enabling them to explore the most intriguing scientific questions of the day in an atmosphere of complete freedom and fostering the application of this knowledge to the improvement of humankind.

This pursuit of answers—fueled by our scientists' curiosity, intellect, and creativity—has resulted in substantial breakthroughs over the last hundred years, including Hubble’s discovery that the universe is expanding, Richter’s development of a seismic scale to measure earthquakes, and Rubin’s confirmation of dark matter, among many others.

Our approach has also fostered new fields of research led to unexpected benefits to society, including the development of hybrid corn, radar, the technology that led to Pyrex ® glass, and novel drugs that deploy RNA interference technology.

Timeline of Carnegie History


First meeting of the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Board of Trustees, January 29, 1902

Andrew Carnegie establishes the Carnegie Institution for Science, then called the Carnegie Institution of Washington, with a $10 million gift.

Desert landscape

The Desert Lab, dedicated to the study of desert ecosystems, is established outside Tucson, Arizona.

	 Andrew Carnegie and George Ellery Hale in front of the 60-inch telescope, Mount Wilson Observatory.

Carnegie funds George Ellery Hale's proposal to build the Mount Wilson Solar Observatories in the mountains overlooking Pasadena.

Aerial view of the marine biology laboratory at Dry Tortugas Island.

Carnegie establishes a tropical marine biology laboratory at Dry Tortugas Island where researchers conducted experimental work in ecology, regeneration, and growth, and in-depth investigations of coral reefs.

Carnegie investigator Louis Bauer stands outside a tent during field work pertaining to terrestrial magnetism in Colombo, Ceylon.

Carnegie funds Louis Agricola Bauer and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism to map the variations in the Earth's magnetic field. From 1905-1945, DTM undertook a World Magnetic Survey with 200 land-based expeditions and ten ocean cruises.

Geophysical Laboratory scientist Arthur Day and a colleague experiment using an electric arc furnace, circa 1906.

Carnegie establishes the Geophysical Laboratory to investigate the physical and chemical properties of rocks and minerals.

Nettie Stevens

Nettie Stevens' revolutionary report provides evidence that the X and Y chromosomes are associated with sex determination.

Map of San Francisco showing distribution of apparent intensity pf the earthquake shock.

Following the San Francisco Earthquake, Carnegie funds the first integrated scientific investigation of earthquakes in the U.S.

George Ellery Hale at the spectrograph of the 60-foot solar tower telescope, Mount Wilson Observatory.

Aided by a spectroheliograph of his own design, George Ellery Hale discovers that sunspots are intense magnetic fields. This discovery was the first detection of a magnetic field beyond that of Earth.

Blueprint for the 60–inch telescope and dome, Mount Wilson Observatory.

The 60-inch reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory sees first light.

George Shull.

George Shull's research establishes the principles that underpin the creation of hybrid corn.

The Carnegie ship under full sail.

The nonmagnetic ship Carnegie is launched to survey the Earth's magnetic field at sea.

Carnegie Institution's historic headquarters building in Washington, D.C.

Carnegie's historic headquarters building at 16th and P Streets in Washington D.C. is completed. The building was designed by the New York firm of Carrere and Hastings and served as the Institution's administrative headquarters for over a century.

A single Drosophila (fruit fly).

Genetics pioneer Thomas Hunt Morgan discovers a mutation that leads to the chromosomal theory of hereditary. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933.

Investigators collecting gases in soft-nosed tubes at Kilauea.

Carnegie's Frank Perret and collaborators collect volcanic gases at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano and help establish the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at the edge of the Kilauea caldera.

Sea Coast Village.

Carnegie initiates archaeology research in Mexico and Central America, which continued until 1957 and is regarded as a 'golden age' in Maya archaeology.

Franklin Mall’s manuscript notes for human embryo Specimen #417 in the Carnegie Collection of Human Embryos.

The Department of Embryology is founded to manage and study an embryo collection that became the largest in the world. Scientists used the collection to develop a fundamental description of human development and conduct path breaking experimental studies.

Two men inspect glass plates at the Bausch and Lomb Optical Co., Rochester, NY.

Scientists at Carnegie's Geophysical Lab modernize American optical glass-making industry during WWI.

60–inch reflecting telescope, Mount Wilson Observatory.

The 100-inch Hooker telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory sees first light. The Hooker telescope was the largest in the world from 1917-1949 and enabled discoveries that transformed our understanding of the scale and nature of the universe.

60-inch reflecting telescope, Mount Wilson Observatory.

Harlow Shapley maps the globular cluster system of the galaxy and finds its center, toppling the almost 400-year-old Copernican model of a Sun-centered universe.

Erskine Williamson and Leason Adams.

Erskine Williamson and Leason Adams determine density structure of Earth's interior and metallic core, helping to lay the groundwork for the modern study of planetary interiors.

VAR plate taken by Edwin Hubble on the 100–inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory.

Edwin Hubble discovers the first Cepheid variable star in M31 proving that the universe exists beyond our Milky Way galaxy.

Group at Temple South of the Three Lintels, Chichén Itzá, Mexico, 1925.

Carnegie archaeologists begin excavation at the Maya site at Chichén Itzá on the Yucatán peninsula. Over the following decade they excavated and rebuilt more than a dozen major structures and made preliminary studies of dozens more.

Leading scientists at Carnegie’s Seismological Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Carnegie and Caltech establish a seismology laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Carnegie plant chemist Herman Spoehr working with his albino plants in the laboratory.

Herman Spoehr publishes the landmark book, Photosynthesis.

The Evolution of the Igneous Rocks and related samples.

Carnegie petrologist Norman Bowen publishes The Evolution of the Igneous Rocks, the most influential book on petrology in the 20th Century.

Scientific drilling by the Geophysical Laboratory at Yellowstone National Park.

Carnegie scientists E.T. Allen and A.L. Day drill the first scientific boreholes in Yellowstone National Park to explore the geyser basins. Six years later, Carnegie published the classic Hot Springs of the Yellowstone National Park.

Edwin Powell Hubble seated at the 100-inch reflecting telescope, Mount Wilson Observatory.

Edwin Hubble discovers that the universe is expanding.

Jens Clausen, William Hiesey, and David Keck.

The founding fathers of modern plant population genetics Jens Clausen, David Keck, and William Hiesey initiate their classic transplant and hybridization research at Carnegie's alpine stations.

Edwin Powell Hubble, Albert Einstein and five others gathered at the Hale Library, Pasadena.

Meeting with physicists and astronomers in the Carnegie Observatories library, Albert Einstein announced that although he had been famously resistant to Edwin Hubble's assertion that the universe was expanding, the visit had changed his mind.

Charles Richter and others viewing buckled pavement.

Charles Richter develops the "Richter scale" for measuring the strength of seismic earthquakes.

Odd Dahl (on ladder), Calvin F. Brown, Lawrence R. Hafstad, and Merle A. Tuve with two-meter electrostatic generator and cascade high-voltage tube.

Carnegie physicists confirm the existence of the strong nuclear force using the two-meter Van de Graaff electrostatic generator.

Group at fission demonstrated at DTM on 28 January 1939.

Uranium fission is demonstrated at Carnegie's research campus in Washington, D.C. just six weeks after the discovery of fission by German scientists.

Vannevar Bush with the OSRD Advisory Council in the Carnegie administration building board room, 1946.

Franklin Roosevelt authorizes Carnegie president Vannevar Bush to oversee the coordination of scientific research and development activities during World War II.


Developmental Horizons in Human Embryos is published, solidifying the Carnegie Stages, which provide a unified developmental chronology of the vertebrate embryo.

A proximity fuze at the left compared with a clockwork fuze at right.

Carnegie scientists develop the proximity fuze, aiding the Allies' World War II efforts.

DTM fellows.

Carnegie inaugurates a postdoctoral fellowship program where young investigators study with established scientists in their field before moving on to begin scientific careers of their own. Today, Carnegie is renowned for its fellowship programs.

Vannevar Bush.

Carnegie president Vannevar Bush publishes the seminal Science, the Endless Frontier, giving birth to our national scientific enterprise.

Invitation for "What is the Meaning of Mediaeval Science to the Modern Scientist?" talk by George Sarton.

George Sarton completes the final volume of his Introduction to the History of Science. Carnegie supported Sarton, the father of the discipling of the history of science, for thirty years, providing funding for his writing and lecturing.

Charles Stacy French working with an instrument at the Department of Plant Biology.

C. Stacy French invents the "French Pressure cell," used to study cellular structure and processes in plants.

The 200-inch Hale telescope.

The 200-inch Hale telescope on Palomar see first light, replacing the 100-inch Hooker Telescope as the largest in the world. The joint Caltech-Carnegie Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories partnership lasted until 1980.

Barbara McClintock working with maize in the lab.

Barbara McClintock discovers transposons or "jumping genes."

Martha Chase and Alfred Hershey.

Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase prove that DNA, not protein, carries genetic material.

Walter Baade.

Walter Baade recognizes the phenomenon of stellar populations and starts a revolution that led to our understanding of the nature of stars, their life cycles, and the evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Baltimore Sun article about the Jupiter radio emissions discovery.

Bernard Burke and Kenneth Franklin detect the first radio emissions from another planet­ Jupiter. The discovery marked the birth of planetary radio astronomy and opened a new window into the study of planetary magnetospheres.

A truck with seismic equipment deployed for explosion studies in Peru.

Carnegie Andes Expedition during International Geophysical Year initiates collaborative geoscience research in South America that continues today.

Carnegie astronomer W. Kent Ford with the Perkins Telescope at Lowell Observatory.

Installation of the Carnegie image tubes begins at observatories worldwide, allowing existing telescopes to see farther than ever before.

Las Campanas Observatory.

Carnegie begins construction of Las Campanas Observatory in Chile's Atacama Desert, a site chosen for its ink-dark skies and dry stable air, which provide ideal observing conditions for the some of the best "seeing" in the world.

Alfred Hershey at work in the lab.

Alfred Hershey shares the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in genetics.

Vera Rubin at Lowell Observatory with Kent Ford in white helmet.

Vera Rubin and Kent Ford establish the initial confirmation of the existence of dark matter.

Swope telescope.

The 40-inch Swope Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory sees first light.

Donald Brown (right) with Carnegie fellow Tasuku Honjo (left) in the lab in the early 1970s.

Future Nobel prize winner, Tasuku Honjo, begins a postdoctoral fellowship in the Brown Lab at Carnegie.

Diamond anvil.

Ho-Kwang Mao and Peter Bell break the megabar barrier using a diamond-anvil cell, recreating in the lab the extreme pressures that exist at the very edge of the boundary between the Earth's mantle and core.

Du Pont Telescope.

The 100-inch du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory sees first light.

Installation of a borehole strainmeter in Japan.

Carnegie seismologists detect slow, silent earthquakes in Japan's lzu peninsula. The discovery was made with the Sacks-Evertson borehole strainmeter, an instrument developed at Carnegie to measure minute changes in the strain of rocks.

Vera Rubin and Kent Ford.

Vera Rubin, Kent Ford, and Norbert Thonnard solidify the confirmation of the existence of dark matter with data from additional galaxies.

Gerald Rubin and Allan Spradling.

Allan Spradling and Gerald Rubin discover a new method of gene transfer, showing that an external gene could be successfully inserted and expressed in a fruit fly’s germ cells using P-elements.

Maxine Singer, Barbara McClintock, and Nina Fedoroff at a Carnegie Science event.

Barbara McClintock receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discoveries in genetics.

Nina Fedoroff examines maize plants.

Nina Fedoroff is the first to clone and characterize maize transposons, or "jumping genes." With this pioneering work, Fedoroff advanced with molecular methods the genetic discoveries that Carnegie geneticist Barbara McClintock had made decades earlier.

First Light students in the lab examining Iggy, the iguana.

Carnegie Institution initiates educational program First Light, and later the Carnegie Academy for Science Education (CASE), for elementary school children and teachers. Since 1989, CASE programs have served more than 1,600 students and 1,200 teachers.

Irwin Shapiro giving a Capital Science Evenings lecture.

Carnegie launches the Capital Science Evening Lectures series, which provides the public a unique opportunity to connect with some of the most gifted investigators in science and hear the stories behind their discoveries.

Allan Sandage.

Carnegie's Allan Sandage is awarded the Crafoord Prize for his "contributions to the study of galaxies, their populations of stars, clusters and nebulae, their evolution, the velocity-distance relation (or Hubble relation), and its evolution with time."

Maxine Singer.

Carnegie President Maxine Singer wins the National Medal of Science for her outstanding scientific accomplishments and her deep concern for the societal responsibility of the scientist."

Vera Rubin.

Vera Rubin is awarded the National Medal of Science for her "significant contributions to the realization that the universe is more complex and more mysterious than had been imagined."

Night sky.

Mark Phillips establishes the relationship-informally named after him-that allows Type la supernovae to be used as standard candles for measuring the expansion rate of the universe.

George Wetherill.

George Wetherill receives the National Medal of Science for his contributions to the development of radiometric age-dating techniques and theoretical models simulating the evolution of the inner solar system.

Artist’s concept of GJ180d.

Carnegie is named to the inaugural class of the NASA Astrobiology Institutes, established to address fundamental problems like How does life begin and evolve? Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?

Winslow Briggs

Winslow Briggs' lab identifies blue-light receptor for phototropism, named phototropin, which orients a plant toward blue wavelengths. This discovery represented a crucial step in understanding how plants grow and how that growth is regulated by light.

Paul Butler.

Paul Butler initiates observational exoplanet research at Carnegie using precision radial velocity method. Butler leads the discovery of 70 of the first 100 extrasolar planets detected.

Twin Magellan Telescopes.

The 6.5-meter Magellan Baade telescope at Las Campanas Observatory sees first light. Two years later the 6.5-meter Magellan Clay telescope would see first light.

A DNA microarray indicating the gene activity of Arabidopsis plants infected with the powdery mildew fungus.

The genome of plant Arabidopsisis completed by a team of scientists, including Carnegie plant biologists.

Wendy Freedman.

Carnegie astronomy Wendy Freedman and team publish a new measurement of the expansion rate of the universe, or Hubble Constant, using Hubble Space Telescope observations to reach more distant Cepheid variables.

The Department of Global Ecology building.

Carnegie establishes the Department of Global Ecology, the first new department in 70 years. The department's mission focuses on understanding the ways that biological, physical, and human factors interact to shape the Earth's ecosystems.

Perspective view of Mercury's topography.

MESSENGER Mission to Mercury is launched. Carnegie's Sean Solomon is the project's principal investigator and Larry Nittler the deputy principal investigator.

Giant Magellan Telescope.

Scientists and engineers from Carnegie, Harvard University, Smithsonian Institution, and the University of Arizona develop the conceptual design for the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be built at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory.


Carnegie scientists discover the world's oldest diamonds, the inclusions in which function as time capsules that record ancient movements of continents and the origins of plate tectonics.

Andrew Fire.

Andrew Fire wins Nobel Prize for his discovery of RNA interference.

Joseph Gall.

Joseph Gall is awarded the Lasker Special Achievement Award in Medical Science in recognition of his distinguished career as a founder of modern cell biology and the field of chromosome structure and function, and his championing of women in science.

The Carnegie Airborne Observatory in flight.

The Carnegie Airborne Observatory flying laboratory is launched, opening a new, high-resolution window on the changing composition of our land and ocean environments.

Carnegie's Chris Field poses with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC.

Chris Field heads up the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working group II, which looked at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability from climate change. He was selected as a member of the group to receive the Nobel Prize alongside Al Gore.

Robert Hazen.

Robert Hazen and colleagues introduce "Mineral Evolution" (and later "Mineral Ecology") as a new framework for understanding the formation, occurrence, and properties of minerals in the Earth and Solar System.

Deep Carbon Observatory Summer School Yellowstone National Park.

The Deep Carbon Observatory, an international ten-year mega project headquartered at Carnegie, is launched to investigate the nature of carbon in Earth's deep interior.

Erik Hauri.

Erik Hauri leads research that discovers water in the Moon's interior.

Donald Brown.

Donald Brown wins the Lasker-Koshland Award for "exceptional leadership and citizenship in biomedical science-exemplified by fundamental discoveries concerning the nature of genes; and by selfless commitment to young scientists."

The first blast at the Giant Magellan Telescope site.

Site preparation for the Giant Magellan Telescope begins at Las Campanas Observatory, with the first of 70 controlled blasts to level the highest mountaintop.

Researchers conducting coral research off of One Tree Island.

Ken Caldeira and colleagues' study of ocean acidification provides evidence that deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions are required to prevent the coral reefs from around the world from dying off.

2012 VP113.

Scott Sheppard announces the discovery of 2012 VP113, then the most-distant known object in the Solar System, kicking off the hunt for a ninth planet lurking on the fringes of our Solar System.

Artist’s concept shows the explosive collision of two neutron stars.

Using Carnegie's Swope telescope, a team of Carnegie astronomers provides the first-ever glimpse of two neutron stars colliding.

Clownfish swim near pulsing xenia coral.

The Carnegie coral facility is established. The facility enables study of coral symbiosis and work with coral and sea anemone model organisms.

Artistic rendering of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) facilities, renamed the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, against a simulated night sky.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is renamed the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in honor of the late Carnegie astronomer whose research confirmed the existence of dark matter.

Plant Cell Atlas logo.

The Plant Cell Atlas project is launched. The initiative brought together more than 800 experts to develop a community resource that will comprehensively describe plant cell types, the molecules they manufacture, and the biochemistry that happens in them.

Miguel Alzate, Lara Wagner, and Gaspar Monsalve install MUSICA stations during fieldwork in Colombia

A team led by Carnegie's Lara Wagner is awarded A $2.7 million multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional NSF-Frontiers of Earth Science grant to study an active flat slab in the Colombia Andes.

AEThER logo.

The interdisciplinary, multi-institution AEThER project is launched to understand the chemical makeup of our galaxy's most common planets with a goal of developing a framework for detecting chemical signatures of life on distant worlds.

A person stands in front of an immersive visualization display system with 35 2D- and 3D-capable flat panels in the shape of a cresting wave

The Carnegie Theoretical Astrophysics Center is founded and construction is complete on its flagship initiative, the 3D virtual reality enabled visualization lab or Vizlab.

Artist's conception of new Pasadena life science research building.

Carnegie President Eric Isaacs announces that the institution will expand its existing relationship with Caltech with a goal of broadening historic collaborations in astronomy and astrophysics and pursuing new opportunities in ecology and plant biology.

Rendering of the Magellan Infrared Multi-object Spectrograph (MIRMOS).

Carnegie astronomer-led teams are awarded funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation for MIRMOS and MagNIFIES, two groundbreaking instruments that will help reveal galaxy evolution and exoplanet formation and atmospheric makeup in unprecedented detail.

Rendering of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) at night showing the design of the telescope, enclosure and summit.

The National Academies names the Giant Magellan Telescope and U.S. Extremely Large Telescope program a top strategic priority.

Aerial view of forest and horizon.

Carnegie launches the Biosphere Sciences and Engineering Division. The division will deploy an integrated, molecular-to-global approach to tackling the challenges of sustainability, resilience, and adaptation to a changing climate.

Moon globe in the Observatories library

Visit Our Archives

Carnegie has extensive physical and digital materials documenting our institutional history. Learn about our archival resources, conduct research on our documentary heritage, or arrange a visit to one of our historic campuses. 

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Books at the Broad Branch Road campus library

Explore Our Publications

Since our founding, Carnegie has published an annual Year Book highlighting research form across the institution. The Carnegie Monograph series, composed of more than 600 volumes, was published until 1994. 

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