Astrobiology is the study of life in the Universe – where it is, how it came to be there, what it is like, and where it might be going.
As the only life we know about for sure is on Earth, a lot of astrobiology is about trying to predict where we might find life elsewhere. I am exploring the biochemical aspects of this problem. What might the chemistry of life be like on other worlds? Can you have life swimming around in liquid nitrogen or boiling sulfur? Could life be based on silicon instead of carbon? And if the answer to any of those questions is ‘yes’, how would we detect that life from Earth?
Our work has focused on how life would adapt to worlds very unlike Earth's. What would like look like on a world with a hydrogen atmosphere? Could there be life on a planet where the Poles were at 150oC? We have published a number of papers around this. For a while I was very interested in sulfur chemistry. This has lead me (among other things) to look into the sulfur chemistry of volcanic gases on Earth, resulting in this informal report of what the volcanic springs, geysers and fumaroles in Yellowstone National park smell like.
Recently the MIT group has been exploring more broadly what the chemistry of life could be, and has started to look for patterns in biochemistry that might enable us to predict what other world's life might look like at a chemical level. This work has very exciting implications for understanding life on Earth as well.
I am really priviledged to have been collaborating with Sara Seager's group at MIT on this since 2009. See this page for more on that collaboration.
Software or data sets described in any of my astrobiology papers is available for download in the 'Document Library' section of this site.