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.

Tracing Aromatic Carbon's Cosmic Evolution

Wednesday, November 05 2014 - 9:09 pm, PST
The origin of carbonaceous matter starts with the injection of atoms, molecules and dust into interstellar space by C-rich, late type stars. There it is processed by ultraviolet radiation, energetic particles and shocks. Some of this material becomes incorporated into dense molecular clouds and fuels new stars and their emerging planetary systems. Observations over the past twenty years, combined with quantum chemical calculations and laboratory experiments have shown that aromatic materials are a very important component of interstellar matter. This proposal aims to shed light on the detailed chemistry and spectroscopy of cosmic aromatic materials.

The Carbon Dioxide Infrared Absorption Bands: Probes of the Chemistry on the Surface of Planetary Bodies

Wednesday, November 05 2014 - 9:04 pm, PST
CO2 is observed on Mars and on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and it is highly likely that it is to be found elsewhere among the outer planets. One of the most interesting occurrences of CO2 is inside water ice, where the observed CO2 vibrational band is shifted relative to that of the gas-phase or solid-phase CO2. Of even more interest is the fact that the position of the CO2 asymmetric stretching band varies from satellite to satellite. While laboratory work has yielded some insight into the change in CO2 frequency with water environment, there is still much to be learned; a difficult task because of the complexity of the system. Here we propose to simulate the vibration of CO2 inside various forms of water ice, from crystalline to amorphous and to clathrates. These calculations will yield sufficient insight into the correlation between the water environment at the molecular level and the observed CO2 vibrational frequency to aid in the interpretation of the laboratory experiments and the observations. One should then be able to deduce information about the nature of the water ice on the outer planets, yielding insight into its formation and history.

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
This work involves building a database of the spectra of aromatic compounds, for use in interpreting astronomical observations and in developing instrumentation for planetary landers and probes. We are pursuing collaborations in this area with other scientists at NASA, universities, and non-profits.

PAH database website

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

Monday, June 13 2011 - 2:06 pm, PDT
This work involves building a database of the spectra of aromatic compounds, for use in interpreting astronomical observations and in developing instrumentation for planetary landers and probes. We are pursuing collaborations in this area with other scientists at NASA, universities, and non-profits.

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.