Organic molecules float abundantly among the interstellar clouds.
Researchers have long speculated that the existence of these simple amino acid compounds — the building blocks of life — could spawn life in other corners of the universe. Now a collaboration of faculty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University at Albany and Syracuse University will investigate how the conditions that created life on earth may have given rise to organisms in other corners of the universe.
NASA awarded RPI a five-year, $7.5 million grant that will allow the college to further nearly a decade of research on the campus focusing on the origins of life. The New York Center for Astrobiology will incorporate many of the same researchers who contributed to the New York Center for the Studies on the Origins of Life, a NASA-funded program that concluded in 2006.
“Our planet and its biosphere can no longer be considered in isolation,” RPI President Shirley Jackson said during a news conference at the college’s Center for Biotechnology. “We are a part of the universe that gave birth to it — and to us.”
RPI and the cooperating campuses were among 36 educational institutions that applied for the grant. Only nine were provided with the grant. The new center will further the effort to answer an age-old question mankind has asked: Is there life outside the confines of earth?
“It’s the study of origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe,” said Douglas Whittet, a professor of physics and leader of the new center. “These are the most fundamental questions the human race has been asking.”
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