Understanding Planetary Habitability: Where Does Life Exist Beyond Earth and How Can We Find It?

Current evidence indicates that life initiated on Earth just as soon as the physical conditions permitted. Is there life on other planets, or is life on Earth a unique phenomenon? We now know that Earth-like planets are common in our Milky Way galaxy. Recent research indicates that Mars may once have been habitable, and that oceans of liquid water exist below the icy surfaces of Europa and Enceladus. Are any of these locations suitable habitats for life? What physical conditions does life require to start and to flourish, and where are the settings to find such conditions?

Our Pop-Up Institute will unite researchers across campus (College of Natural Sciences, Jackson School of Geosciences, Cockrell School of Engineering) to:

  1. Bring in a wide variety of world experts to advise us on the topics of planetary habitability and life beyond Earth.
  2. Identify the most important questions in these research areas.
  3. Develop long-range plans for a coordinated campus-wide research effort in planetary habitability.
  4. Write draft proposals for significant external funding of this research effort through the NASA Astrobiology Institute, NSF, or private foundations.
  5. Explore possible international collaborations with aligned initiatives in other countries.

Pop-Up Institute Leader

William Cochran, Ph.D.
Research Professor
McDonald Observatory, College of Natural Sciences

Principal Team

Brendan Bowler, Ph.D.
(Future) Assistant Professor
Department of Astronomy, College of Natural Sciences

Anita Cochran, Ph.D.
Assistant Director for Research Support
McDonald Observatory, College of Natural Sciences

Michael Endl, Ph.D.
Sr. Research Scientist, Lecturer
McDonald Observatory, College of Natural Sciences

David Goldstein, Ph.D.
Hayden Head Centennial Professor
Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Cockrell School of Engineering

Sean Gulick, Ph.D.
Research Professor
Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences

Jack Holt, Ph.D.
Research Professor
Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences

Adam Kraus, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Astronomy, College of Natural Sciences

Laurence Trafton, Ph.D.
Sr. Research Scientist
McDonald Observatory, College of Natural Sciences

David Hoffman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Molecular Biosciences, College of Natural Sciences