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Dr Louisa Preston
Dr Louisa Preston profile picture
  • Lecturer in Planetary Science
  • Dept of Space & Climate Physics
  • Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

I am an astrobiologist, planetary geologist, and author who studies some of the Earth’s most extreme environments and the life (both human and microbe) that lives or once lived in them. I use these sites as examples of the kind of places and types of life-forms we think might have once existed on other planetary bodies, such as Mars, Europa and Titan. I am also on the science team for the next European Space Agency Mars mission, the ExoMars 2022 rover ‘Rosalind Franklin’, which will drill into the crust of Mars searching for signatures of buried ancient life. I am also an author, having written and contributed to four popular science books, including my own book ‘Goldilocks and the Water Bears – The Search for Life in the Universe’ published by Bloomsbury.

Research Groups
Research Summary

My research is largely concerned with the habitability potential of planetary bodies within and outside our Solar System especially the possibility of life existing on the terrestrial planets and icy moons of our local neighbourhood. I am interested in where simple life may be hiding in the Solar System today and in the past, how we may be able to detect signs of its existence and how its ‘biosignatures’ are preserved within the geological record. Through this I hope to understand how life may first have arisen on the Earth and its potential to have also begun on other planetary bodies.

My research combines experimental simulations, fieldwork, and spectroscopic analyses, blending geological and biological methods, to better enable biosignature detection within materials on Earth, and ultimately on Mars, Europa, Titan and even within the atmospheres of exoplanets. My current projects focus on the use of Fourier Transform Infra-Red spectroscopy to identify biological materials within geological substrates. I use reflected light IR microscopy and diamond ATR techniques to study the degree of preservation of fatty acids and proteins over geological time within the most environmentally extreme habitats on Earth.

I am also involved with planetary analogue simulations, and instrument development and testing for current and future missions. Outside of my current experience, I am especially interested in studying organics within space materials and the prospects for life on Europa and Titan.

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