Magdalena R. Osburn



  • Fellow
  • Earth 4D: Subsurface Science & Exploration


  • Northwestern University
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences


  • United States


PhD (Geobiology) California Institute of Technology
MS (Geobiology) California Institute of Technology
BA summa cum laude (Earth & Planetary Sciences, Environmental Studies) Washington University


Magdalena Osburn is a geobiologist interested in understanding interactions between microbes and Earth on a variety of spatial and temporal scales whose work is focused largely on the gradient between shallow and deep subsurface environments. 

The deep subsurface is a large and geochemically interesting environment that is particularly rich in new species. Microbial dark matter, uncultivated and unclassified organisms only known from their DNA, constitute a large portion of microbial life on Earth and are particularly abundant in the deep. In her research, Osburn asks how microbes persist in deep continental settings, including to what extent they use materials from the surface. She uses micro-scale imaging and DNA sequencing to identify organisms, reconstruct their genomes, and see how they interact with minerals and one another.

She is also interested in developing new cultivation techniques both in the lab and in the environment to help understand why these microbes are so hard to grow and ultimately, grow them.


Northwestern University Associated Student Government Faculty and Administrator Honor Roll, 2018

Packard Fellowship Award, 2017

Dean’s Award, Recognition of Service to Graduate Honor Counsel, Caltech, 2013

Graduate Research Fellowship Award, National Science Foundation, 2009

The Ernest L. Ohle, Jr. Prize, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Washington University, 2007

Relevant Publications

Andrews, M.G.*, Jacobson, A.D., Osburn, M.R., Flynn, T.M., (2018) Dissolved carbon dynamics in meltwaters from the Russell Glacier, Greenland Ice Sheet. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 123. 10.1029/2018JG004458 

Johnson, D.B.*, Beddows, P., Flynn, T., Osburn, M.R. 2017. Microbial diversity and biomarker analysis of modern freshwater microbialites from Laguana Bacalar, Mexico, Geobiology 16, 319-337

Osburn, M. R., Dawson, K. S., Fogel, M. L., & Sessions, A. L., 2016. Fractionation of Hydrogen Isotopes by Sulfate- and Nitrate-Reducing Bacteria. Frontiers in Microbiology 7, 318–316.

Osburn, M.R., LaRowe, D.E., Momper, L., Amend, J.P., 2014. Chemolithoautotrophy in the continental deep subsurface biosphere: Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), USA. Frontiers in Extreme Microbiology, dii: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00610

Osburn, M.R., Sessions, A.L., Pepe-Ranney, C., Spear, J.R., 2011. Hydrogen-isotopic variability in fatty acids from Yellowstone National Park hot spring microbial communities. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 75, 4830.
* Northwestern student