Our unique approach to astrobiology research combines fieldwork, laboratory simulations, thermochemical modelling and in situ observations.
We aim to:
To address these objectives, we draw on knowledge and techniques from a range of science disciplines, such as microbiology, organic geochemistry, mineralogy, planetary science and instrument development. We have world class planetary simulation facilities, which are part of a European Infrastructure project.
We study the feasibility of habitable environments existing elsewhere and how life could exist in such environments. We use this information to identify bio-signatures that could be used as evidence of life. Our work is fundamental for understanding the conditions in other planetary environments, which can inform future life detection missions, and is crucial for understanding the data (or samples) returned by such missions.
Our academics, postdocs and postgraduate students are drawn from the School of Earth, Environment and Ecosystems Sciences and the School of Physical Sciences as well as from the faculties of Business and Law and Arts and Social Sciences.
We're also have an excellent team of laboratory and support hub staff.
Dr. Karen Olsson-Francis: I suppose Astrobiology is driven by the desire to understand if we're all alone in the universe. I think we kind of understand that, but it's kind of defining the field itself is very difficult. As a microbiologist, as a biologist, I think of it about life, life in extremes, what are the limits of life.
Dr. Vic Pearson: So my interests came from wanting to know if we could find the evidence of life and that didn't have to be the microbes, that could be the remains of the life - the the organic side, or even, as we've been doing more recently, the inorganic biosignatures of life.
Dr. Susanne Schwenzer: Well you first have to figure out, could you even need to have to look at this point because as an Earth scientist, my first question would be “What are the conditions there?”. So to me astrobiology is always, first, the question about what are the conditions? What elements are in this environment? What is the temperature, and could anything live there? And then I go to Karen and she asked the question about her extremes.
Dr. Karen Olsson-Francis: I think the uniqueness of our group, and why we've kind of done so well, is the fact we're really doing that exciting science at the boundaries between these natural disciplines. That's what astrobiology is though isn't it? It's a multitude of disciplines all working together.
Dr. Susanne Schwenzer: Then you also have to ask the question, if we want to investigate other planets for life, how do we make sure that our investigation today doesn't hamper future investigations in other words planetary protection that belongs to that discipline as well.
Dr. Vic Pearson: There's also the “What if you do find it?”, those really difficult questions, you know, what do we do in those circumstances? And I suppose as scientists, we might say well perhaps that's not what we need to think about, but that's juicy. That's the kind of thing that we really do want to start to think about and how do we then communicate that with the public - if we find evidence. And we have to do it sensibly and with appropriate caution.
Dr. Susanne Schwenzer: Right now the question “Are we alone?”, the answer is likely yes, but the moment you were to find something elsewhere and the answer becomes no for definite, that changes everything.
The video features Karen Olsson-Francis (right), Susanne Schwenzer (left), both based in EEES, and Vic Pearson (centre) from the School of Physical Sciences.
On 22 November Professors Clare Warren, Mark Brandon and Richard Holliman, and Dr Barbara Kunz travelled to Manchester for an OU Graduation Ceremony.
An EEES researcher is leading a new Natural Environmental Research Council-funded project to improve our ability to predict climate change using cutting-edge analysis of fossilised algae molecules.