Position title: Research Scientist
My overall research goals are to elucidate two of the most significant ‘jumps’ in complexity known to have occurred on our planet: the origins of life, and the origins of the earliest eukaryotes evolved. I recently discovered two diverse assemblages of protistan-grade microfossils in the 1.45 billion-year-old sedimentary deposits of the Belt Supergroup in Montana. In addition to continuing to uncover new microfossils in these and other Precambrian deposits, I am also interested in exploring new geochemical routes to prebiotic macromolecule synthesis. Our radiolysis experiment team recently discovered geochemically plausible conditions in which nearly all of the precursors required to assemble ribonucleotides through the Powner-Sutherland pathway can be synthesized with minimal human intervention. My current work focuses on investigating whether prebiotic monomer synthesis was itself a self-organizing chemical system, perhaps from the very first stages of the origins of life. If so, this carries profound implications for constraining where, and how frequently, life originates in our universe.
- Building and operating a dedicated X-ray generator to study the synthesis of new prebiotic compounds under a variety of conditions found on young planets, moons and in the interstellar medium.
- Assembling, curating and interpreting large chemical reaction networks that describe different origins of life scenarios, and describing which measurable attributes might distinguish a setting that is more likely to lead to living systems.
- Conducting field sample collection and stratigraphic description to determine the environments in which Earth’s earliest eukaryotes evolved and radiated on our planet.
- 2022 SciAlog Fellow and Grant Awardee, Biosignatures of Life
- 2021 John Templeton Foundation, Ideas Challenge Award Recipient