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Lindy  Elkins-Tanton

Lindy Elkins-Tanton

NASA Principal Investigator, Planetary Scientist and Educator & Expert in Teamwork

Lindy Elkins-Tanton

NASA Principal Investigator, Planetary Scientist and Educator & Expert in Teamwork


Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a world-renowned planetary scientist, educator and member of the National Academy of Sciences. She is the Principal Investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission, co-founder of the education company Beagle Learning and Vice President for the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University, one of the top Earth and planetary science research schools in the United States.

She also has 30 years of experience in the creation of effective interdisciplinary teams, setting culture, maximizing discovery, and surviving crises, in organizations from startups to megaprojects.

She was the second woman in history to compete for and win a NASA deep-space mission. Asteroid (8252) Elkins-Tanton and the mineral Elkinstantonite are named for her.
Her memoir A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman was published by William Morrow in 2022.

Elkins-Tanton received her bachelor's and master's degrees from MIT in 1987, then spent eight years working in business, with five years writing business plans for young high-tech ventures. She then returned to MIT for a doctorate. She spent five years as a researcher at Brown University, followed by five years on MIT faculty, before accepting the directorship of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science. In 2014, she moved to the directorship at Arizona State University.

Speaker Videos

How One Mom Started Her PhD At 31 And Made NASA History

Grit with Lindy Elkins Tanton

Class I Speaker, Linda Elkins-Tanton - 2018 Induction Ceremony

Connecting with Nature Around You with Lindy Elkins-Tanton

2023 Mars Farmhouse

Setting your Big Goal Question

Lindy Elkins-Tanton: Why Teamwork Helps Scientists Thrive

Change Begins with a Question | Lindy Elkins-Tanton | TEDxStMarksSchool

Speech Topics

Human by Human: The Art & Science of Exceptional Teams & How to Get Them to Look Up & Out

In our increasingly technical and complex world, we need the best thinkers, makers and problem-solvers. We also want people who can deal with the challenges facing our organizations, a structure that can focus us on the most critical questions and enable faster adoption of innovations. All are possible. Employees can be taught these skills that help them innovate, lead and create change, and processes can be created that set you up for the future. In this talk or workshop, Lindy Elkins-Tanton draws from 30 years of experience leading diverse, interdisciplinary research and technical teams and her process that started 40 pilot projects over the past six years and yielded an 8x return on her investment to date, to show you how to build exceptional teams and how you get them to look up and out.

You will learn:

  • The key personal skills for the greatest success.
  • How to network individuals into high-functioning teams.
  • How to identify the most important questions in your area, stretching your perspective out over the time horizon.
  • Practical next steps to take toward reaching those audacious goals.

Hearing Every Voice: Setting Culture in Diverse Teams

There's one crucial first step in a team that at a single stroke increases innovation, minimizes risk, reduces implicit bias and creates a communicative, positive culture: Letting every voice be heard. Drawing on 30 years of experience leading diverse, interdisciplinary science and technology teams, Lindy Elkins-Tanton will share the biggest lessons learned for setting culture and surviving crises in teams.

What's the Most Important Question? Jumpstarting Critical Research & Building Interdisciplinary Teams

To deal with the challenges facing our organizations and our society, we need a structure that can create knowledge where we need it and enable faster adoption of innovations. This structure must enable broader participation on every axis, including gender, socioeconomic background, race, nationality and across disciplines. This is the moment to reimagine research—for the greatest use of resources, the greatest use of all human minds and the greatest progress into the most positive possible future. Using her process, Lindy Elkins-Tanton has started 40 pilot projects over the past six years, and these teams yielded an 8x return on our investment to date. No more incremental progress. No more focusing on unimportant goals. In this workshop, she'll identify the most important questions in your area, and set up teams for pilot projects.

The NASA Psyche Mission: An Electric Journey to a Metal World

“Psyche” is both the name of an asteroid in the main belt, orbiting out past Mars, and the name of our NASA mission to visit that asteroid. Psyche’s density, radar and reflected light properties indicate that it is largely made of metal. Humans have never visited a world made of metal. So if Psyche turns out to be what we think, we’ll be visiting a new kind of world. Our spacecraft will launch in October 2023 and start its journey through space to this metal world. In this talk, Lindy Elkins-Tanton and her team discuss how a NASA mission is planned and built, the key aspects of a successful team culture and the huge crisis they faced and how they overcame it. Psyche will surprise us. The universe always outsteps even our best imaginations. And the whole Psyche team looks forward to sharing all they discover with everyone here on Earth.

The Future of Education Is Work & Life

Here is a controversial idea: Content is no longer the differentiator in education. In this information age, we need to be teaching the key skills for work and life right in the classroom. Identifying unsolved problems, asking good questions, assessing the quality of information and communicating in teams. At Arizona State University and in Beagle Learning, Lindy Elkins-Tanton and her team have produced a process and a new undergraduate major that trains these durable skills—moving us toward our vision of a society where every person is a problem-solver with a sense of personal agency. In this session, you’ll learn practical ways to change your education culture.

The Gifts of a Curving Career Path: From Single Mother to Scientific Leader

Sometimes people think scientists always knew what they wanted to do and went straight at it from the age of five. Lindy Elkins-Tanton’s path was far curvier, and had as many downs as ups, on her way to leading a $1B robotic NASA mission to a metal asteroid. Maybe it's clearer in hindsight than it was moving forward, but Elkins-Tanton sees now how her wish to work in teams where every person can succeed has driven most of her career choices. In this talk, she’ll share her story and path from single mother to scientific leader.