On Trend

The search for life in our Solar System and beyond has been identified by NASA as its top strategic priority.


From the Beginning

Our team was one of the foundational members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).

Understanding the origins of life on Earth and beyond

How did life arise on Earth? Where did its building blocks first develop—in the superheated saltwater near deep-sea vents, or within the vast ice sheets covering primordial oceans? Or did life on Earth evolve from carbon-based molecules transported here billions of years ago by comets and asteroids? Reconstructing the key transitional processes between a chemical non-living state and a biological living state has been a long-standing scientific challenge. Solving this mystery would arguably be the most significant breakthrough of our time.

We work towards this goal by studying life’s chemical and physical evolution—from its pre-solar beginnings through planetary formation to the emergence of life on Earth. We search for signs of life on other planets, and we document the nature of microbial life at extreme conditions as well as the characterization of organic matter in fossils here on Earth. 

Our Top Questions

Epi-fluorescence microscopy of acridine orange stained microorganisms collected from deep-sea vents at 2.5 km depth and cultured at high pressure conditions (250 atm).

Tools of the Trade

We utilize a wide range of spectroscopic instrumentation for the interrogation of the molecular structure, chemical, and isotopic composition of natural organic materials of biological and non-biological origin, including Raman, FTIR, GC-mass spectroscopy, solid-state NMR, electron microprobe, SIMS, EPMA, and SEM. We also operate chemical and experimental labs for culturing, synthesis, and characterization of organic materials.

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