Five students wearing puffy parkas and vests lean against rocky columns in silly poses

Origins of Life Consortium students in Iceland

The Origins of Life Consortium fosters an interdisciplinary approach across disciplines to answer questions related to the origin of life on Earth and the presence of life on other planets. This summer, the Consortium traveled to the southern region of Iceland, which enabled faculty and graduate students from biochemistry, astronomy, organismic and evolutionary biology, and geobiology to share multiple perspectives while visiting extraordinary geological features.

Izzy Baker, a PhD student in organismic and evolutionary biology connected with the Girguis lab, enjoyed the opportunity to learn from experienced professors from Harvard and elsewhere and to connect with students from other backgrounds. “Sites we visited felt like we took a time machine to different stages of Earth’s earliest eras—from basalt-laden expanses barren of life, to the geothermal fields encrusted in colorful mineral precipitates, teeming with exotic microbes—while other places felt so alien it seemed like we had stepped foot on Mars,” said Baker. “These tremendous landscapes, combined with the interdisciplinary and cordial nature of our cohort, made for an academically enriching and unique experience all-around.”

Students and faculty were able to discuss and understand how the first continents on Earth may have formed and evolved, and how early oceans and atmospheres interacted with rocks and set up the conditions for life on the early Earth. Jack Szostak, professor of chemistry and chemical biology, said, “I love the Origins Consortium because it brings together people with such different backgrounds based simply on a shared interest and excitement about the Origins of Life. It’s wonderful to see astronomers and biologists engaging with planetary scientists and chemists as we try to gain some insight into how we came to be here!”

Interested? Get involved by joining the Origins of Life Consortium

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Photos courtesy Origins of Life Initiative