Charles Cockell

Photo of Professor C Cockell
Professor C Cockell

Professor C Cockell

Professor of Astrobiology
Academic staff
James Clerk Maxwell Building (JCMB)
Room 1502

Charles is a member of the following School research institute and research areas:

Research interests

My research group is interested in Astrobiology. As a discipline, it seeks to understand the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the Universe. In particular, we are interested in life in extreme environments and understanding the the diversity, processes and biosignatures of life in extremes.

Projects include studies of microorganisms and their elemental cycling in dark, deep hypersaline environments using the Boulby International Subsurface Astrobiology Laboratory (BISAL), a fully equipped microbiology laboratory we have set up at 1km depth in the Boulby mine. We are also investigating the habitability of Martian environments, looking at microbial access to ancient carbon and we have experiments studying the growth and behaviour of organisms in space using the International Space Station. We apply this work to understanding the earth system better and contributing to the robotic and human exploration of space.

Our work is conducted within the UK Centre for Astrobiology, a virtual astrobiology centre we established in 2011 that is affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute (

I am currently Course Director and teach on the pre-honours Astrobiology course (PHYS08051) at the University of Edinburgh (with Ken Rice). It seeks to give students a grounding in interdisciplinary science and the diverse disciplines including physics, astronomy, geology, biology and chemistry relavant to astrobiology.

I oversee and teach half of the SUPA Astrobiology and Search for Life course (SUPAASL), a graduate course in astrobiology.

I teach and run a Massive Open On-Line Learning (MOOC) introductory course on Astrobiology ( The course has attracted 80,000 students since it began.

Life in space

In this video Charles describes his research on outer space as an extreme environment. Only the most resistant microorganisms can survive there. By studying how they fare in space we can learn about how life prospers in extreme environments.

Recent publications

  1. , , , , , , , , , et al., Science, 354, 6314, p. 878-882
  2. , , , , , and , Astrobiology, 16, 10, p. 775-786
  3. , and , FEMS microbiology reviews, 40, 5, p. 722-737
  4. , , and , Astrobiology, 16, 6, p. 427-442
  5. , Molecular Biology of the Cell, 27, 10, p. 1553