Chemistry Of Life Projects


Thursday, November 06 2014 - 9:28 am, PST
We propose a feasibility study for a small spaceborne mid-Infrared telescope/spectrometer designed to detect and characterize the delivery and survival of extraterrestrial organic matter to the atmosphere (and hence to the Earth). This instrument would detect the dilute levels of organics present in the upper atmosphere by using astronomical mid-infrared light sources along a viewing path that grazes the Earth atmosphere at an altitude of 80 to 100 km (where meteoritic debris is known to accumulate). This would provide a very long path length and allow, for the first time, the detection and characterization of the material that meteors are delivering by the detection of the mid-IR absorbances in the molecular bands. This would provide the first measurement of the amounts of delivery and the types of compounds being delivered and allow characterization of the amounts/types of prebiotic molecules that would become available for the origin of life. It would also provide a better understanding of the organics being formed in solar nebula.

Lipids and the Origin and Evolution of Life

Thursday, November 06 2014 - 9:26 am, PST
This work will support experiments designed to better understand the how lipids relate to the origin of life. It looks at events leading up to the origin of life (prebiotic chemistry) and at the subsequent evolution of life after the last common ancestor, LUCA (and hence, at how one might extrapolate back from current life toward the LUCA). This coop will include work on the formation of amphiphilic vesicles and the role they may have played in supporting and containing chemistry and the origin of life. It also includes studying the use of lipids in microorganisms and how such usage evolved and how that information can be linked to the study of biogeochemical analysis of samples containing lipids as biosignatures.

Biogenic Gases from Anoxygenic Photosynthesis in Microbial Mats

Tuesday, November 04 2014 - 7:57 am, PST
This lab and field project will measure biogenic gas fluxes in engineered and natural microbial mats composed of anoxygenic phototrophs and anaerobic chemotrophs, such as may have existed on the early Earth prior to the advent of oxygenic photosynthesis. The goal is to characterize the biogeochemical cycling of S, H, and C in an effort to constrain the sources and sinks of gaseous biosignatures that may be relevant to the detection of life in anoxic biospheres on habitable exoplanets.

Laboratory measurements of the optical constants of complex organic matter

Monday, November 03 2014 - 10:51 pm, PST
Understanding the chemical nature of haze particles in the atmospheres of Titan and Saturn and materials on the surface of the Saturn system bodies is one of the goals of the Cassini-Huygens mission. Complex organic materials may exist as haze layers in the atmospheres of Titan and Saturn and as dark coloring agents on icy satellite surfaces. Laboratory measurements of optical constants of laboratory haze/condensate analogs at broad spectral wavelengths are crucial for the effort of interpreting the spectral observations by the Cassini-Huygens mission. However, there is a general lack of studies in vacuum ultraviolet, near-IR, and far-IR spectral regions, which is necessary for the Cassini’s UVIS, VIMS, and CIRS instruments. We propose to determine the optical constants of laboratory-generated complex organic matter in the wavelength region between 0.030 μm and 500 μm (20 cm-1), which covers spectral region crucial for the Cassini spectroscopic instruments (the UVIS, ISS, VIMS, and CIRS) and the DISR on the Huygens Probe. Our initial effort would be focused on the plausible organic hazes in Titan and Saturn by investigating complex organic materials 1) with/without nitrogen inclusion and 2) various degree of saturation [(H-N)/C]. Comlex organics consisting of C/H/O elements will also be investigated as potential organic matter on the surface of icy bodies and Saturn’s ring particles. Reliable optical constants from this proposed work would help the effort in interpretation of broad spectral observations by the Cassini mission to constrain the chemical and physical nature of those organic haze materials.

Low temperature characterization of hydrohalite and related salts essential to life in the Atacama

Friday, October 31 2014 - 11:58 am, PDT
We propose to extend an existing project funded by the Astrobiology: Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program to study cyanobacteria inside Atacama halite pinnacles that will enable characterization of these potential habitats on other planetary bodies.

The Formation and Detection of Biogenic Aromatics in Dense Molecular Clouds around Embedded Protostars

Wednesday, October 15 2014 - 2:06 pm, PDT
A comprehensive theoretical and experimental study of the reactions and spectroscopy of PAHs in H2O ices with the goal of understanding the stepwise formation of complex, prebiotic, substituted PAHs in dense cloud material in the environment associated with embedded low-mass young stellar objects.

PAH database website

The NASA Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database: PAH Spectroscopy at Your Fingertips

Monday, June 13 2011 - 2:06 pm, PDT
The goal of this project is to expand the content and capabilities of the NASA Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database ( that we have previously developed with NASA grant support.

Ices and Organic Molecules in Space

Thursday, July 22 2010 - 2:16 pm, PDT
This program focuses on ice experiments for comparison to interstellar and Solar System objects, meteoritic organics, and interstellar dust particles (IDPs). We also are actively pursuing related observational and theoretical projects through collaborations with other scientists at NASA, universities, and non-profits.

Microbial Ecology of Early Earth and Modern Artificial Environments

Wednesday, February 24 2010 - 4:00 pm, PST
If we are to understand complex microbial communities we need to understand not only the microbes themselves but their community dynamics as well.

Organic Aerosols in the Early Earth Atmosphere: Reaction Network an Its Isotope Signature

Thursday, October 01 2009 - 10:09 am, PDT
Experimental simulations of Titan's atmospheric and surface chemistries in order to understand the formation of complex organic molecules as well as the abiotic formation of prebiotic molecules, providing important clues to the origin of life on the early Earth.