Charles Cockell

Photo of Professor CS Cockell, FRSE
Professor CS Cockell, FRSE

Professor CS Cockell, FRSE

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

1986-1989                    BSc, Bristol University, Biochemistry

1990-1994                    DPhil, Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, Molecular Biophysics

1995-1997                    National Academy of Sciences Associateship, NASA Ames Research Center, California, Exobiology

1997-1998                    Visiting Scholarship, Dept. of Biology, Stanford University

1998-1999                    Visiting Scientist, Dept. of Plant Sciences, University of Arizona

2000-2005                    Research Scientist, British Antarctic Survey, Microbiology

2005-2011                    Professor of Geomicrobiology, Open University

2011-                           Professor of Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh

My research group is interested in astrobiology and microbiology. Our particular research focus lies in the study of life in extreme environments and understanding the diversity, processes and biosignatures of life in extremes, and the potential habitability of extraterrestrial environments.

I set-up the UK Centre for Astrobiology in 2011 within which we've implemented a variety of activities from establishing an underground astrobiology lab to study life in the deep subsurface to launching education projects in Scottish prisons, and experiments in the International Space Station. You can read about what we've done in the framework of this virtual centre here:


I am currently Course Organiser 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 relevant 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 130,000 students since it began.

I also direct Life Beyond, an education program for prisons that uses astrobiology and the design of Mars stations to advance science education and space exploration through prisons.

Through the UK Centre for Astrobiology, we also run the Astrobiology Academy (, an initiative we established to develop curriculum materials and lesson plans for primary and secondary schools. 

Research in a nutshell video thumbnail

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. , , , , , , , and , Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences
  2. , and , Environmental microbiology reports, 12, 1, p. 63-69
  3. , , , , , , , , , , and , Space Science Reviews
  4. , and , Nature Astronomy