Duality in the Search for Our Nearest Neighbors: Abiotic Chemistry’s Place in Life

This seminar is part of the EAI on-line seminars

By Kristin Johnson-Finn, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA

30 May 2023, 16:00 CEST

For this seminar, I wish to emphasis a love for the non-living: the abiotic chemical processes that our world is capable of, overlooked by necessity in the face of abundant life on our planet.  On Earth, there exists an array of naturally occurring environments that can result in the formation of abiotic organic chemical pathways diluted and conflated by simultaneous biology; the same may not be so on an uninhabited world.  Our understanding of how the two compare is limited and in need of growth.  The research of my newly founded group at RPI explores abiotic organic chemistry in water through hydrothermal and electrochemical experimental studies.  Our lab group seeks to explore the kinetics and mechanisms of organic reactions as they occur in geologic environments such as hydrothermal vents where organic compounds and minerals collide and interact.  Through detailed pathway mapping constructed from a combination of experimental results and theoretical calculation we can provide a framework for future experimentation and interpretation of natural organic processes in geologic settings.  Understanding organic chemistry as it can exist geologically can inform space-faring investigations of other worlds, simplifying our search for biosignatures left by our nearest neighbors.