The European Astrobiology Institute aspires to become a primary forum for the development of European Astrobiology ensuring that this relatively new interdisciplinary research field is established across Europe. Hence the EAI will have the following aims:
- To perform ground-breaking research on key scientific questions in astrobiology (which will be periodically reviewed) requiring a cooperative interdisciplinary approach
- To disseminate high-quality results of such research efforts effectively across the scientific community
- To provide interdisciplinary training for students and early career scientists in astrobiology
- To engage in education in the field of astrobiology on all levels
- To liaise with industry to foster collaborations on technological developments that are relevant to astrobiology research and beneficial to Europe as a whole
- To coordinate the outreach activities of European astrobiologists to the general public, industry and all other relevant stakeholders
- To act as an advisory body and provide high-quality expertise to European research organisations and decision makers on all aspects of astrobiology at an European level
- To ensure the necessary financial means to carry out these activities through a coordinated approach to European funding agencies including Horizon programmes
Key research areas of the EAI and associated scientific questions
Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems and Detection of Habitable Worlds
- How are planetary systems formed?
- How do the conditions of the formation environments (galaxy, protoplanetary disk) influence the formation of habitable planets?
- Which factors define habitability?
- How can we detect extrasolar habitable planets and satellites?
Planetary Environments and Habitability
- How did physical, chemical, geological and biological processes co-evolve on Earth?
- How did habitability evolve on early Earth?
- Which conclusions can we draw for other planets from studies of the Earth?
Evolution and Traces of Early life and life under extreme conditions
- In which environment did life first emerge (Darwin’s little warm pool or some more extreme environment)?
- Which boundary conditions exist for life and what can they tell us about early terrestrial and the possibility of extraterrestrial life?
The pathway to complexity: From simple molecules to first life
- Where and how did the complex organic molecules necessary for life originate (space, atmosphere, surface) and how were they delivered?
- How does the environment affect the production and stability of complex organic molecules? How did the formation of biopolymers and self-assembly of first cells proceed?
Biosignatures and the Detection of Life beyond Earth
- Which strategies should we employ for tracing early terrestrial as well as extraterrestrial life in environments?
- Which (combination of) individual biosignatures (chemical, geological, spectroscopic, others) and tracers of life present in these environments would be seen conclusive for extant and extinct life?
- Which novel methods and technologies can be developed to detect life?
Historical, philosophical, societal and ethical issues in astrobiology
- How did our ideas about the origin of life develop?
- Which views about extraterrestrial life exist in different cultures?
- Which philosophical, societal, political, juridical and ethical issues are raised by the search for life on other planets and moons?
All these fundamental research questions require a concerted effort by scientists from different fields.
Proposed activities of the EAI
To achieve the above-mentioned aims, the EAI should:
- Foster interdisciplinary research projects in the field, especially by early career scientists
- Hold high-level general conferences in astrobiology as well as smaller workshops on specific subjects to provide a forum to discuss and plan innovative research projects
- Enable and facilitate access to European research infrastructures and field sites for astrobiologists and organise expeditions to such sites
- Provide a comprehensive multidisciplinary European astrobiology training for students and early career scientists offering both basic and specialised training events in the field as well as training in generic skills (proposal writing, planning of scientific projects) and develop a mentoring programme for Early Career Researchers
- Organise web-streamed seminars by leading scientists in astrobiology, and also provide an interface (web based tools) to collect and share astrobiology lectures
- Create a network for astrobiology education and provide training material for basic, secondary and higher education in Europe
- Produce high quality reference works (e.g. the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology)
- Create and effectively promote excellent outreach material in cooperation with entities engaged in public education (museums, schools and adult training centres)
- Promote contacts with the media and ensure high quality coverage of astrobiology-related European research by maintaining an expert pool which journalists can contact
- Use the wide interest of the general public to coordinate and promote involvement of citizen scientists in astrobiology research projects
- Create a team for liaison between research and industry with representatives on both sides
- Approach and inform decision makers in governmental and non-governmental organisations about astrobiology research in Europe
- Formulate and continuously update a long-term planning of a research strategy in astrobiology for the European Research Area
- Coordinate a pan-European approach to funding agencies to finance the activities of the EAI and astrobiology research in Europe
- Include both “top level researchers” and early career scientists in all activities of the EAI
- Act as a strong voice for the European astrobiology community
- Collaborate with astrobiology networks and institutes outside Europe