Self-Assembly of Prebiotic Organic Materials from Impact Events

UK Centre for Astrobiology seminar

Self-Assembly of Prebiotic Organic Materials from Impact Events

  • Event time: 1:30pm until 3:00pm
  • Event date: 21st March 2017
  • Speaker: Nir Goldman
  • Location: Room 4325B,

Event details

Simple prebiotic compounds (e.g., amino acids, small peptides) can be produced on or delivered to a planet in part via comets and other celestial bodies, and consequently could have been present before the emergence of life on early Earth. However, the role that impacting bodies played in the in the emergence of life remains an open question, in part because little is known about the survivability and reactivity of these species upon impact with a planetary surface. Potential life building synthesis would depend heavily on specific chemical reactivity during extreme pressures and temperatures. To this end, we use novel quantum simulation methods in development in our group to study oblique impacts of a number of different aqueous prebiotic solutions subjected to extreme conditions (e.g., 40 GPa and 3000 K). We find that as a general rule these elevated conditions induce the formation of oligomeric structures with relatively short chemical lifetimes. The oligomers tend to partially fragment during cooling and expansion, yielding a large variety of prebiotic materials, from amino acids to complex three-dimensional structures resembling peptide chains and membrane precursors. Our results help determine the role of astrophysical materials in both the delivery and synthesis of potentially life building compounds on Earth. This helps guide experimentation by providing both a possible synthetic mechanism as well as a catalogue of possible chemical products to be investigated.

The astrobiology seminar series is run by the UK Centre for Astrobiology based in the School of Physics & Astronomy. Astrobiology is a multi-disciplinary subject and the seminar series actively encourages attendance by undergraduates, postgraduates and academic staff from other departments..

Find out more about UK Centre for Astrobiology seminars.