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Didier Queloz and John Sutherland lead £10m Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe

Trinity Fellows Professor Didier Queloz and Professor John Sutherland will lead a new University of Cambridge initiative to investigate fundamental questions about life on Earth and beyond.

The Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe brings together an international and multidisciplinary set of academics, including researchers from eight Cambridge departments and faculties, to build on recent transformatory discoveries. Nobel Laureate and Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Cavendish Laboratory, Didier Queloz is Director of the new Centre, and Professor Sutherland, of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), is Associate Director.

Professor Queloz said it was a fascinating moment because progress in three key areas – the chemistry of life, exploring Mars and other planets – heralded giant strides in understanding the origins of life, the nature of life and possibly the diversity of life in the Universe.

We live in a fascinating moment because three elements have come together. By combining the results of all these experiments we will have some kind of a breakthrough.

The Centre will act as a catalyst for the development of our vision to understanding life in the Universe through a long-term research programme that will be the driving force for international coordination of research and education.

 

Professor Didier Queloz was the first to discover an exoplanet – a planet outside the solar system.

The initiative encompasses a range of scientific disciplines and philosophy, in recognition of the profound questions the research could raise and public debate it could catalyze. Professor Queloz said that public engagement would be a vital element of the Centre’s work.

The impact of fundamental research is enormous on society. Our society is built on the results of science. By studying our Universe we’re learning something and exactly what will be done with that knowledge will up to future generations.

The question about life brings more than simply knowledge, it touches on very profound spiritual elements: ‘Why life? What is the purpose of life? What is the future of life?’

Enabled by a £10 million grant from the Leverhulme Trust, the Centre brings together leading scientists and philosophers from the University of Colorado Boulder, University College London, ETH Zurich, Harvard University and the Centre of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, in addition to academics at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Earth Sciences, Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Institute of Astronomy, Department of Zoology, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Divinity, and the MRC LMB.

 

Professor John Sutherland researches the chemical origins of life.

Professor Sutherland said:

The new Centre is exciting because of its interdisciplinarity. I am very keen to see how recent exciting prebiotic chemistry we have uncovered in the lab could have played out on early Earth and Mars and whether it could also have taken place, or even still be taking place on planets around stars other than our sun.

There is no way I could do this without collaborating with colleagues in Earth Sciences and Astrophysics and I am delighted that the Leverhulme Trust funding will now allow this to take place – there are exciting times ahead!

The Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe builds on recently launched Initiative for Planetary Science and Life in the Universe (IPLU).

In 2019 Professor Queloz was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics with Professor James Peebles and Professor Michel Mayor for their pioneering advances in physical cosmology, and the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star. He is the 34th Nobel Laureate of Trinity and leads the Cambridge Exoplanet Research Centre.

Hear more from Professor Queloz in this video by Bullaki Ltd.

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