Wed, 22 Nov 2023
Seminar Series

Dr. Peter Willis


The Search for Chemical Signs of Life Beyond Earth

Wednesday, November 22, 2023
SSB 7172 @ 3:30 p.m.

Host: Dr. George Agnes



Chemical analysis is an essential part of our search for life beyond Earth. The most sensitive, and least Earth-centric, way to perform a chemical search for life during a spaceflight mission is by coupling liquid-based sample handling and separation with mass spectrometry and other detectors.  We have fundamentally advanced the readiness of this technology for potential robotic astrobiology missions, through the invention of a new generation of portable electrophoresis instrumentation. In the Atacama Desert, Chile we demonstrated “sample-in-data-out” function of a remotely operated rover-mounted microchip-based system using optical detection.  More recently, at Mono Lake, California, we demonstrated a capillary-based system capable of interfacing with additional detector systems, including conductivity and mass spectrometry detection. These hardware systems serve as prototypes for future spaceflight mission instruments, and can be customized for terrestrial and marine investigations as well.