Dr Erica Barlow, former ACA Student, stops by from NASA to talk about biosignatures!

You can watch Dr Barlow’s seminar here.

Presentation: ‘Looking for life ‘as we don’t know it.’’

Abstract: The search for life elsewhere in the Universe is informed by what we know about life here on Earth. But what if life elsewhere (assuming it exists) is nothing like Earth life? How would we first detect and then go about characterising such life? The Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB) is a team of researchers investigating alternative strategies for life detection, focusing on concepts considered agnostic, or universal, to all life. While much of the research effort so far has centred on extant life, my postdoctoral research with the LAB is directed toward fossilised life.

In particular, I use fossils from the early Earth to identify and characterise specific features that might be considered universal indicators of fossilised life elsewhere. Although this may seem circular – using life as we know it on Earth to investigate life ‘as we don’t know it’ – we can use Earth materials to identify features that conceptually would be common to all life, regardless of its origin. In this talk, I will introduce the concept of agnostic biosignatures and discuss ways we can think about this topic, as it relates to past life.

Presenter biography:

Dr Erica Barlow is a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Pennsylvania State University, working with the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures team. Her current research utilises field observations and a range of analytical lab techniques to explore the concept of past agnostic biosignatures (universal signs of life in rocks), to develop the tools to be able to recognise and describe fossilised life ‘as we don’t know it’ elsewhere. Erica is an alumna of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW (PhD in 2019) and a current fellow of the BQI.