Astrobiology & Geobiology


Understanding the origins of life on Earth and beyond.

Hydrothermal Vent.jpg
Studying life at extremes on Earth, like the bacteria living around these hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, could help us understand the origin of life on other planets. Credit: P. Rona / OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP); NOAA / Public domain

Our Research

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

Research Staff

Conel M. O'D. Alexander - Cosmochemistry; isotopic chemistry and origin of interstellar grains, origin of the organic compounds in meteorites

George Cody - Geochemistry; chemical history of the early Solar System; geobiological applications of Solid State Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR)

Robert Hazen - Coevolving geosphere and biosphere; Earth's evolving mineralogy; interactions among organic biomolecules and mineral surfaces; mineral-mediated chemistry in the context of origins of life; emergence of pre-biotic chemical complexity 

Andrew SteeleAstrobiology; planetary science; defining a multi-technique and robust hypotheses testing for the detection of life on early earth and elsewhere in the solar system.

Dionysis Foustoukos - Geochemistry; planetary science; evolution of geofluids in a wide range of natural environments

Technical Staff

Emma Bullock - Electron Microprobe Lab Manager

Jianhua Wang - SIMS Lab Manager

Suzy Vitale - FIB Lab Manager

Postdoctoral Fellows and Associates

Michael L. Wong - Ph.D. Ph.D., Planetary Science (2018), California Institute of Technology

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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.



Our instrumentation >>

JEOL JXA-8530F field emission electron microprobe analyzer (EMPA)