The molecular origin of life: The formation, evolution, and detection of prebiotic molecules in space

Speaker Name/Affiliation
Niels Ligterink / University of Bern, Switzerland
Location Other (Room)
LASP – Space Science Building, SPSC-W120
Event Details & Abstracts

Abstract: The origin of life revolves around the question how small, simple molecules formed, gradually increased in chemical complexity, and eventually started working together to form a proto-organism. Within this concept, one exciting prospect is that (some of) the building blocks of life are formed in space and delivered to Earth, making life as we know it to some extent extraterrestrial.

During this seminar we take a journey through three stages of star- and planet-formation to see how the building blocks of life can be formed, evolve, and be detected. Radio telescope observations of young protostars are used to detect prebiotic molecules in the gas surrounding these objects, but analysis indicates that these molecules actually formed on ice-coated dust grains. Machine learning and Transition State Theory are used to determine desorption parameters of molecules, which govern at which temperature a molecule is in the solid-state or in the gas and set the chemical and elemental composition of planet-forming disks. Finally, the ORIGIN space instrument is shown, which is a laser desorption mass spectrometer capable of detecting amino acids, lipids, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, identify the prebiotic chemical complexity on Solar System objects, and perhaps even find biosignatures.



Please note that the LASP SPSC Parking lot (544) is closed for repairs starting on 15 May. According to the schedule, access to 544 should be restored by 17 July; but schedules can slip.  Please consider calling the LASP Receptionist in advance if you are a visitor planning to attend this Seminar in person.

LASP seminars are generally held every Thursday at 4:00 PM on Zoom and in person.
If you are interested in attending, please contact Heather Mallander ( to be added to the mailing list.

Address Info: Please note that the doors to SPSC remain locked during business hours. If you are external to LASP, it would be helpful to alert us in advance by contacting Heather Mallander ( that you plan to attend so that we can let you in.

Address Info:

LASP – Space Science Building


3665 Discovery Drive, Boulder, CO 80303