Finding an Alien Biosphere with Quantum Chemistry

Posted by Cole Crawford
Digital Futures Discovery Series, Events

November 27, 2018
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Discovery Bar, Cabot Science Library

Please join us for the November installment of the 2018-2019 Digital Futures Discovery Series, a year-long program led by Harvard's Digital Futures Consortium that explores the ongoing transformation of scholarship through innovative technology.

Clara Sousa-Silva, a molecular astrophysicist, uses quantum physics and computer simulations to figure out what molecules look like when they interact with light. She then uses these molecular fingerprints to deduce what the composition of any atmosphere is, be it on Earth or elsewhere in the galaxy. In her words, "“"Light from an atmosphere can tell us so much – whether we are seeing pollution, oceans or even life. But without knowing what each meaningful molecule looks like, that light is indecipherable. That’s why my work is crucial if we want to understand alien worlds, and eventually detect a new Earth.”

Dr. Sousa-Silva will be discussing her current research projects, which involve assessing alien biosignatures with organic and quantum chemistry. She discusses her work in this BBC clip.

Clara Sousa-Silva joined MIT in September 2016 as a post-doc in the EAPS department working with Sara Seager. Before Clara came to MIT she was the Educational Co-ordinator for the Twinkle Space Mission where she founded EduTwinkle, the mission’s educational program. As part of EduTwinkle, Clara started the ORBYTS program (Original Research By Young Twinkle Students), where high school students work along scientists to produce original research associated with space exploration. The first three associated articles have now been published (see below) with nine of the kids as co-authors.

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