NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) selected a team from NASA Ames Research Center, and six other research teams nationwide, to take part in astrobiology research for the next five years. Total value of the award is over $50 million for the duration of the program for all seven teams. Dr. Partha P. Bera (as a Co-Investigator) and Dr. Michel Nuevo of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute work with the Ames team.
The Astrobiology Institute’s Ames team seeks a greater understanding of chemical processes at every stage in the evolution of organic chemical complexity, from quiescent regions of dense molecular clouds, through all stages of cloud collapse, protostellar disk, and planet formation, and ultimately to the materials that rain down on planets. The team will also explore how these processes depend on environmental parameters like the ambient radiation field and the abundance of H2O. The team will use an integrated, coherent program of astrochemical experiments, quantum chemical computations, disk modeling, and observations of astronomical sources. The ultimate goal is to move beyond identifying particular molecules, ions, or radicals present in astronomical objects to understanding their place in the dynamics of the chemical evolution of different astrophysical environments, with particular attention to the formation sites of new planetary systems and our own Solar System.
Dr. Bera will be studying the formation and evolution of prebiotic molecules that may exist on the primordial planets, comets, meteorites, or on the protoplanetary disks by means of quantum chemical computations. Dr. Nuevo will be working on the experimental side to understand the evolution of organic inventory of such bodies. Besides the BAERI scientists, the Astrobiology Institute’s Ames team is also comprised of scientists from NASA Ames Research Center, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, the SETI Institute, and the Leiden University in the Netherlands. More information about the team’s research activities can be found from the following link: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/teams/ .