Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Bethany P Theiling

(Research AST, Planetary Studies)


Org Code: 699

Mail Code: 699
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Employer: NASA

Current Projects

Autonomous Science Agent Frameworks


We are developing a modular framework for an autonomous onboard science 'agent' that can perform sample analysis and use a combination of a priori assumptions and artificial intelligence to update science priorities, communicate findings, prioritize future science data collection, and carry out these actions in the absence of ground-in-the-loop interaction. This technology is specifically useful for planetary missions in which communication is difficult or episodic.

Mass Spectrometry Science Autonomy for Ocean Worlds


My group is a new cooperative network spanning mass spectrometer instrument developers, ocean worlds laboratory analog experimentalists, and machine learning experts in an effort toward developing science autonomy for ocean worlds missions. We are working to: 1) develop flight instruments that can function autonomously in order to achieve established science goals and 2) develop consistent and streamlined methods for interpreting data from flight mass spectrometers. 

Earth and Planetary Atmospheric Predictions Using Machine Learning

Atmospheric Measurement

We are developing machine learning models to predict in situ atmospheric isotopes using spacecraft data.

Isotopic Fractionation on Ocean Worlds


We are working toward developing predictive models for abiotic isotopic fractionation on, and analysis of mass spectra from, Ocean Worlds targets by conducting laboratory experiments of analog conditions. 

Isotopic Biosignatures on Ocean Worlds


This project focuses on the viability of detecting isotopic biosignatures of life on Ocean Worlds through experimental laboratory analogs.

Habitability of Ocean Worlds


Evaluation of habitability of ocean worlds environments through analysis of experimental laboratory analogs and computational modeling.

Ecosystem Effects of Oceanic Dead Zones and Biotic Recovery

Ecosystem function

Study of widespread development of 'dead zones' - low oxygen oceanic zones typically positioned near continents - in Earth's past, with particular focus on the climatic and oceanographic conditions that promote dead zones, and well as recovery from these events. Research is conducted through a combination of fieldwork and laboratory analysis. 



NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

August 2019 - Present

Assistant Professor

The University of Tulsa - Tulsa, OK

August 2015 - May 2019

Postdoctoral Researcher

Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech - Pasadena, CA

July 2013 - May 2015

Stable Isotope Specialist

Purdue University - West Lafayette, IN

June 2011 - July 2013

Teaching Experience

Undergraduate level:

Introduction to Oceanography

History of the Biosphere (lecture and lab)

Historical Geology (lecture and lab)

Environmental Science

Physical Geology (lecture and lab)

Physics I (lab)


Graduate level:


Paleoenvironment Interpretation

Planetary Science



Ph.D., Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, May 2013

M.S., Geology, University of Georgia, December 2005

B.A., Anthropology; Linguistics minor, Florida State University, June 2003



Theiling, B. P., L. Chou, V. D. Poian, et al. M. Battler, K. Raimalwala, R. Arevalo, M. Neveu, Z. Ni, H. Graham, J. Elsila, and B. Thompson. 2022. Science Autonomy for Ocean Worlds Astrobiology: A Perspective Astrobiology [10.1089/ast.2021.0062]

Brinckerhoff, W. B., P. A. Willis, A. J. Ricco, et al. D. A. Kaplan, R. M. Danell, A. Grubisic, M. F. Mora, J. S. Creamer, A. Noell, J. C. Stern, C. Czopa, C. Freissinet, F. Kehl, K. Zamuruyev, C. T. Castle, J. Spring, T. Drevinskas, M. Badescu, M. S. Ferreira Santos, E. A. Jaramillo, F. Van Amerom, X. Li, M. E. Castillo, J. L. Eigenbrode, B. P. Theiling, R. C. Quinn, F. Stalport, A. Buch, and K. A. Zacny. 2022. Europan Molecular Indicators of Life Investigation (EMILI) for a Future Europa Lander Mission Frontiers in Space Technologies 2 760927 [10.3389/frspt.2021.760927]

Barge, L. M., L. E. Rodriguez, J. M. Weber, and B. P. Theiling. 2021. Determining the “Biosignature Threshold” for Life Detection on Biotic, Abiotic, or Prebiotic Worlds Astrobiology [10.1089/ast.2021.0079]

Theiling, B. P. 2021. The effect of Europa and Enceladus analog seawater composition on isotopic measurements of volatile CO2 Icarus 358 114216 [10.1016/j.icarus.2020.114216]

Hudson, R., B. Theiling, D. Bower, et al. H. Graham, M. Trainer, C. Nixon, and S. Milam. 2021. Laboratory Studies in Support of the Exploration of Ocean Worlds and NASA Missions Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.935e24ec]

Miller, K. E., B. Theiling, A. E. Hofmann, et al. J. Castillo-Rogez, M. Neveu, S. Hosseini, J. Barnes, K. D. Kleer, T. J. Barrett, H. B. Franz, C. R. Glein, C. H. House, R. C. Blase, M. J. Libardoni, L. J. Spilker, M. Choukroun, and B. J. Drouin. 2021. The value of CHONS isotopic measurements of major compounds as probes of planetary origin, evolution, and habitability Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.6c7da905]

Amini, R., A. Azari, S. Bhaskaran, et al. P. Beauchamp, J. Castillo-Rogez, R. Castano, S. Chung, J. Day, R. Doyle, M. Feather, L. Fesq, J. Frank, P. M. Furlong, M. Ingham, B. Kennedy, K. Kolcio, I. Nesnas, R. Rasmussen, G. Reeves, C. Sorice, B. Theiling, and J. Wyatt. 2021. Advancing the Scientific Frontier with Increasingly Autonomous Systems Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.a09526a1]

Theiling, B. P., and M. Coleman. 2019. The relationship of diagenesis with a complex microbial ecosystem in the phosphatic interval of the Miocene Monterey Formation: evidence from stable isotopes and mineralogy Marine Geology 413 112-128 [10.1016/j.margeo.2019.04.001]

Cheng, L., C. Normandeau, R. Bowden, et al. R. Doucett, B. Gallagher, D. P. Gillikin, Y. Kumamoto, J. L. McKay, P. Middlestead, U. Ninnemann, D. Nothaft, E. O. Dubinina, P. Quay, G. Reverdin, K. Shirai, P. T. Mørkved, B. P. Theiling, R. Geldern, and D. W. Wallace. 2019. An international intercomparison of stable carbon isotope composition measurements of dissolved inorganic carbon in seawater Limnology and Oceanography: Methods 17 (3): 200-209 [10.1002/lom3.10300]

Wang, G., J. Li, S. Ravi, B. P. Theiling, and J. B. Sankey. 2018. Fire changes the spatial distribution and sources of soil organic carbon in a grassland-shrubland transition zone Plant and Soil 435 (1-2): 309-321 [10.1007/s11104-018-3895-z]

Juntunen, H. L., L. J. Leinen, B. K. Pitts, et al. S. M. O’Hanlon, B. P. Theiling, L. M. Barge, P. Videau, and M. O. Gaylor. 2018. Investigating the Kinetics of Montmorillonite Clay-Catalyzed Conversion of Anthracene to 9,10-Anthraquinone in the Context of Prebiotic Chemistry Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 48 (3): 321-330 [10.1007/s11084-018-9562-9]

Theiling, B. P., M. Elrick, and Y. Asmerom. 2017. Constraining the timing and provenance of trans-Laurentian transport using Nd and Sm isotopes from Silurian and Devonian marine carbonates Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 466 392-405 [10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.09.012]

Theiling, B. P., and M. Coleman. 2015. Refining the extraction methodology of carbonate associated sulfate: Evidence from synthetic and natural carbonate samples Chemical Geology 411 36-48 [10.1016/j.chemgeo.2015.06.018]

Theiling, B. P., M. Elrick, and Y. Asmerom. 2012. Increased continental weathering flux during orbital-scale sea-level highstands: Evidence from Nd and O isotope trends in Middle Pennsylvanian cyclic carbonates Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 342-343 17-26 [10.1016/j.palaeo.2012.04.017]

Theiling, B. P., L. B. Railsback, S. M. Holland, and D. E. Crowe. 2007. Heterogeneity in Geochemical Expression of Subaerial Exposure in Limestones, and Its Implications for Sampling to Detect Exposure Surfaces Journal of Sedimentary Research 77 (2): 159-169 [10.2110/jsr.2007.014]


Perl, S., S. Adeli, C. Basu, et al. B. K. Baxter, J. Bowman, E. Boyd, M. Cable, A. J. Celestian, C. S. Cockell, F. A. Corsetti, K. L. Craft, A. Engelhart, A. G. Fairen, S. Karunatillake, K. Lynch, S. Potter-McIntyre, F. Rivera-Hernandez, M. Schneegurt, S. Schwenzer, S. Shkolyar, B. Theiling, B. Wade, and J. Zaloumis. 2021. Salty Environments: The importance of evaporites and brine environments as habitats and preservers of biosignatures Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.d0fffbba]