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Program Directory

Big Picture Science

A new the­o­ry about life’s ori­gins updates Darwin’s warm lit­tle pond. Sci­en­tists say they’ve cre­at­ed the build­ing blocks of biol­o­gy in steam­ing hot springs. Mean­while, we vis­it a NASA lab where sci­en­tists sim­u­late deep-sea vent chem­istry to pro­duce the type of envi­ron­ment that might spawn life. Which site is best suit­ed for pro­duc­ing biol­o­gy from chemistry?

Find out how the con­di­tions of the ear­ly Earth were dif­fer­ent from today, how mete­ors seed­ed Earth with organ­ics and a provoca­tive idea that life arose as an inevitable con­se­quence of mat­ter shape-shift­ing to dis­si­pate heat. Could physics be the dri­ving force behind life’s emergence? 


  • Caleb ScharfDirec­tor of Astro­bi­ol­o­gy at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, New York
  • Lau­rie Barge – Research sci­en­tist in astro­bi­ol­o­gy at NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Laboratory 
  • Bruce DamerResearch sci­en­tist in bio­mol­e­c­u­lar engi­neer­ing, Uni­ver­si­ty of California 
  • Jere­my Eng­landPhysi­cist, Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Technology