Lake Untersee is a meromictic soap lake high in the mountains of Dronning Maud Land, Russian sector, Antarctica. The lake, covered by several meters of ice for the last ten thousand years, is fed by the great Anuchin Glacier. At the far end of the lake the deep water is devoid of oxygen and the lake bottom is dominated by a complex anaerobic microbial community. The underwater ecosystem nearer to the glacier is oxygen-rich and dominated by photosynthetic cyanobacterial mats and stromatolites.

Flying in to Lake Untersee, Dronning Maud Land, Russian Sector, Antarctica

An altruistic autonomous rover carrying a 405 nm laser fluorescence spectrometer in a Mojave desert Mars analog environment.

Life in Lava Tubes

Caves and lava tubes offer life protection from radiation, a critical aspect for life in hostile environments unprotected by the atmosphere and magnetic field of Earth. A student-focused project at Harvey Mudd College has resulted in preliminary design and testing of laser optical probes that could help an autonomous rover search for life in lava tubes on Mars. 

Dust of Life

Organic chemistry, the interaction of carbon with a host of other elements, is the foundation of life as we know it. Spectacular images and spectra generated by the Spitzer Space Telescope, have now traced the origin and evolution of carbon compounds from our own Milky Way galaxy to extra-galactic neighbors and ultimately back to the first few hundred million years following the Big Bang.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (green) in the Perseus star forming region

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Cieza (University of Texas at Austin)

Ancient Complexity

Fossil stromatolites provide us with a window into the complex mat structures of ancient photosynthetic microbial communities. The relative complexity of the structure of these communities can be quantified by extracting a small number of features from digital RGB and computerized tomography images of the laminae.

Global heating will pose a series of challenges for microbial life accustomed to icy cave ecosystems. Laser Induced Fluorescence Emission techniques can quantify biomass in ice and follow changes in metabolic processes.

Non-destructive Search for Life and Cancer

Probes used to search for microbial life, such as aser induced fluorescence emission and laser Raman spectroscopy, can be used to detect breast cancer.