Research Areas

The faculty, researchers, and students in the UWAB program work in a wide variety of astrobiology-relevant research areas. In doing so, they draw on their expertise and experience in an array of disciplines raging from astronomy and biology to oceanography and atmospheric science.

Currently, the main research areas of focus within UWAB are listed below. For more detailed information on the interests of individual researchers within the UWAB community, visit our directory.

Origin & Evolution of Life on Earth

Studying the origin and evolution of Earth’s life and planetary environment helps explain why life has persisted on Earth for billions of years, what makes a planet habitable, and why. Researchers within the UWAB community explore the evolution of early microbial metabolism, the evolving climate of the Earth over the past 4 billion years, and the mechanisms and consequences of mass extinctions. These studies combine expertise in geology, biology, chemistry, atmospheric science, computer modeling, as well as field and laboratory work. UWAB faculty and students often travel to remote locations such as Australia and Greenland, to study Earth’s oldest and best-preserved rocks.  MORE >

Life in Extreme Environments

In this research area UWAB faculty and students explore the evolutionary processes and survival mechanisms of organisms that live in extreme environments on our planet. These “extremophiles” populate habitats like deep-sea hydrothermal vents, Arctic sea ice, geothermal hot springs, and extremely dry desert soil. These environments and their inhabitants give us a glimpse into potentially habitable environments on other planetary bodies, where these extreme conditions might be more common. MORE >

Habitability & Life in the Solar System

The Red Planet is of enormous interest to astrobiologists as there is considerable evidence that the planet once supported liquid water on its surface, and it is possible that regions of its sub-surface may be habitable even today. Astrobiological research on Mars led by UWAB faculty and students focuses on understanding the Martian environment and climate, and in particular the nature and distribution of past habitable environments on Mars. MORE >

Exoplanets: Detection, Habitability, and Biosignatures

To search for life beyond our Solar System, the first step is finding a rocky extrasolar planet. The next scientific challenge then becomes how to recognize - across the vast distances of interstellar space - whether that planet really could support life, or already has life. UWAB faculty and students are developing new techniques to search for and detect extrasolar planets, and are combining computer models and data from different fields to understand how planets become and stay habitable. UWAB researchers also work to identify astronomical biosignatures, global signs of life that could some day be detected on extrasolar planets. MORE >

Space Exploration

Astrobiology provides a compelling scientific rationale for space exploration. In turn, astrobiological data from other planets can often only be obtained by robotic explorers like the Mars rovers, or from large space-based telescopes that take observations of distant planets in our Solar System and around other stars. UWAB researchers work on specific engineering aspects that enable space exploration, such as propulsion and power systems, and explore enabling technologies for manned Mars missions. Other UWAB researchers work as team members or collaborators on ongoing spacecraft missions and space-borne telescopes that study the Earth, Mars, and other planets.  MORE >

Graduate student Eva Stueeken examines geologic formations in the Mojave Desert during an astrobiology field workshop.
Graduate student Eva Stueeken examines geologic formations in the Mojave Desert during an astrobiology field workshop.