Searching for the Origins of Life

Lisa Kaltenegger receives 1 million US dollar award from Simons Foundation

11. 9. 2013 | Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger is an expert on the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars than our Sun. This month, she has been named an investigator for the "Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life". Kaltenegger has her own research group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg.
How life began is one of the great unsolved scientific questions in this day and age. In order to tackle this question, the New York-based Simons Foundation has launched a collaborative effort to advance our understanding of the beginning of life: the "Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life" will bring together researchers from fields as diverse as astrophysics and molecular biology. The Simons Collaboration is co-chaired by Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, a specialist on the emergence of cell-like, self-replicating structures from pre-life chemistry, and astronomer Dimiter Sasselov, Director of Harvard University's "Origins of Life Initiative".
Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger
Bild vergrößern
(© Elisabeth Schuh)

Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger

This month, the astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger has been named as one of the Collaboration's investigators. Kaltenegger, who holds a dual position as a research group leader of the "Super-Earths and Life" group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and as a research associate at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is a specialist for those exoplanets that are most interesting for the search for life on other worlds: Earth-like, rocky planets with the right characteristics to allow the existence of liquid water – a precondition for life as we know it.

With her Simons Foundation Investigator Award of 1 million US dollars, Kaltenegger will study models for the "spectral fingerprints" of exoplanet atmospheres – the minute traces left by different chemical elements in these atmospheres, traceable in theory when the central star's light is filtered through the atmosphere. In modeling spectral fingerprints for Earth-like planets, Kaltenegger will prepare the ground for future observations with the next generation of telescopes that might one day find life on yet undiscovered worlds. "This award is an amazing opportunity to explore the range of different worlds out there," Kaltenegger says. "With such a wide range of investigators from biology to astronomy, the Simons Collaboration offers a unique opportunity to learn more about other worlds and the origin of life – and it's exciting to be a part of that!"   (© Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, AcademiaNet)
Dr. Markus Pössel

More information


  1. Read what our members say about AcademiaNet.

No more excuses!

  1. Please download the brochure "No more excuses" and read more about female experts in Europe, and about AcademiaNet.


  1. New study reveals ancient galaxies' frenzied starmaking

    AcademiaNet member Prof Karina Caputi and her team have discovered that rapid star development is more widespread in early galaxies than previously thought.

  2. Find and further the outstanding female scientists

    Female scientists are not only underrepresented in academia, but also in terms of articles they publish in scientific journals. Nature journals' Editor-in-Chief Philip Campbell talkes about how to change this.

  3. Society's Problem with Parity

    This week we celebrate Marie Curie's 150th birthday. Since her time as a scientist, the situation for women in science has changed a lot. Nevertheless, only a minority of science professors today is female. AcademiaNet spoke with Professor Polly Arnold who is the producer of "A Chemical Imbalance" and a strong fighter for women in science.

  4. A new role for exosomes in type 2 diabetes

    In healthy people, a type of exosomes – tiny structures secreted by cells to allow intercellular communication – prevent clumping of a protein that leads to type 2 diabetes. In patients with the disease, these vesicles don’t have the same ability. These are the results of a new study by AcademiaNet member Professor Pernilla Wittung Stafshede.

  5. "Female academics tend to be too passive"

    Marlies Knipper, Professor of Molecular Physiology at the University of Tübingen, is determined to do her part to bring about gender equality. She has organised a Club of AcademiaNet scientists who meet regularly to discuss challenges they face and to further their knowledge on topics that are relevant today. We talked to Prof. Knipper about what motivates her to stand up for women, and which actions she would like to see more of from fellow academics.