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Life on earth: happy accident or fundamental nature of the universe?

A multidisciplinary alliance of the some of the world’s leading academics at Cambridge, Harvard, Chicago and ETH Zurich will seek to answer fundamental questions about life on Earth: how did it begin and does it exist elsewhere?

The inspiration behind the new ‘Origins Federation’ is Nobel Laureate and Trinity Fellow Professor Didier Queloz, who is Director of both Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe and ETH Zurich’s Centre for Origin and Prevalence of Life.

‘We are living in an extraordinary moment in history,’ says the Professor who as a doctoral student discovered the first exoplanet in 1995, for which he later received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Scientists have since identified 5,000 exoplanets – planets that orbit solar-type stars outside the Earth’s solar system – and predicted potentially a trillion more in the Milky Way galaxy alone.

Until Professor Queloz’s discovery, the solar system was our only frame of reference for planetary knowledge; the subsequent detection of thousands of exoplanets and celestial bodies – some potentially supporting the building blocks of life and some whose atmospheric chemistry has been partly identified – has opened up new realms of investigation.

At the same time, the increasing volumes of data and observations enabled by technological advances, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and interplanetary missions to Mars, inspire new questions.

This is why a multidisciplinary network with long-term perspectives, shared milestones and stable funding is needed says Professor Queloz.

Professor Queloz. Photo: Marco Rosasco

The Origins Federation will forge opportunities for zoologists, chemists, astronomers, astrophysicists, and biologists to pursue innovative collaborative research into the emergence and early evolution of life, and its place in the cosmos. Among the strands of research will be the chemical and physical processes of life, and the environmental conditions required for life on other planets.

Joining forces with Professor Queloz for the launch of the Federations was chemist and fellow Nobel Laureate, Jack Szostak, astronomer, Dimitar Sasselov, Director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, and Professor Emily Mitchell, Co-Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe at Cambridge.

The inaugural conference of the Origins Federation will take place at Harvard University, 12-15 September 2023.

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