31 Oct Where It All Began – A new multidisciplinary center is poised to explore the origins of life in the universe
A new multidisciplinary center is poised to explore the origins of life in the universe.
To tackle the biggest questions, it helps to have a big team.
And there aren’t many questions more massive than the ones related to the origins of life on Earth and whether other worlds—the ones we already know and the ones we have yet to discover—could someday support life.
“This is one of humanity’s biggest existential questions: Are we alone in the universe?” states Richard Townsend, chair of the Department of Astronomy. “Even if the only other thing in the universe is single-celled organisms or some weird sort of crystalline silicon life, it doesn’t matter. It’s a complete philosophical game changer.”
The group Townsend is currently assembling could be a complete game changer, too. The Wisconsin Center for Origins Research (WiCOR) is a new multidisciplinary group that includes researchers from a whopping seven departments: astronomy, chemistry, integrative biology, geoscience, bacteriology (in the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences), botany, and atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Its creation is philanthropically supported and funded in part by the Department of Astronomy’s Board of Visitors.
“The study of life’s origin on Earth and potential origin elsewhere in the universe is catching fire now, thanks to new theories, novel experimental approaches, and the excitement of upcoming solar system exploration,” says David Baum, a professor of botany who studies the evolution of living organisms. “UW has great strength in this area, but until now we have not been well coordinated.”