Contributors to Origin of Life


Ariel Anbar. Arizona State University. He is a Professor jointly appointed in the School of Earth & Space Exploration and theDepartment of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Arizona State University. Anbar is a biogeochemist interested in the past and future evolution of the Earth as a habitable planet and how this knowledge informs the search for inhabited worlds beyond Earth. His current work focuses on the environmental chemistry of bioessential and redox-sensitive transition metals, using the isotope biogeochemistry of iron, molybdenum and other “non-traditional” stable isotope systems to examine changes in metal availability through time, particularly in the Precambrian, and to develop novel isotopic biosignatures. This research has led Anbar to develop and apply new methods in isotope geochemistry and, increasingly, to make use of quantum chemical models and microbiological experiments. Anbar has also studied the atmospheric chemistry of Earth and Mars and the bombardment history of the early Earth, and is exploring the use of metal stable isotopes in biomedicine. As a Co-Investigator of the Deep Time Drilling Project of the NASA Astrobiology Institute he helps lead efforts to obtain well-preserved Precambrian sediments for paleoenvironmental research.


Steven Benner. Weistheimer Institute of Science and Technology. Author of Life, the Universe… and the Scientific Method. The Benner laboratory is an originator of the field of “synthetic biology“, which seeks to generate, by chemical synthesis, molecules that reproduce the complex behavior of living systems, including their genetics, inheritance, and evolution. Steven Benner’s Wikipedia entry.



Oliver Gift. Chef at Low Country Kitchen (Formerly). After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, Oliver worked his way through the ranks, starting as an intern at San Francisco’s Fifth Floor Restaurant and then as Head Fish Cook under Chef Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. During his time at the farm’s Center for Food & Agriculture, he taught educational classes focused on teaching the benefits of using local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients to create healthy dishes.

Oliver moved to New York City for a new position as Sous-chef at Commerce. At Lowcountry, in his well earned, first Executive Chef role, Oliver brings his farm-bred roots to the table with responsibly sourced, simple dishes, executed to perfection.


Robert Hazen. Carnegie Institute and George Mason University. Author of The Story of EarthHazen is author of more than 350 articles and 20 books on science, history, and music. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he has received the Mineralogical Society of America Award (1982), the American Chemical Society Ipatieff Prize (1986), the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award (1989), the Educational Press Association Award (1992), the Elizabeth Wood Science Writing Award (1998), and the Distinguished Public Service Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America (2009). He has presented numerous named lectures at universities, and is currently Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer (2008-2010). He served as Distinguished Lecturer for the Mineralogical Society of America, and is a Past President of the Society. Hazen’s recent research focuses on the role of minerals in the origin of life, including such processes as mineral-catalyzed organic synthesis and the selective adsorption of organic molecules on mineral surfaces. He has also developed a new approach to mineralogy, called “mineral evolution,” which explores the co-evolution of the geo- and biospheres.

In addition to his mineralogical research, he is Principal Investigator of the Deep Carbon Observatory (, which is a 10-year international effort to achieve fundamental advances in understanding the chemical and biological roles of carbon in Earth’s interior.

Hazen’s books have received widespread critical praise. The Music Men, Wealth Inexhaustible, and Keepers of the Flame, all coauthored with his wife, Margaret Hindle Hazen, explore ties between technology and culture. The Breakthrough, The New Alchemists, Why Aren’t Black Holes Black, The Diamond Makers, and Genesis describe the forefront of scientific research. He has also written widely for popular audiences, including articles in Newsweek, Scientific American, Smithsonian Magazine, New Scientist and The New York Times Magazine. His writings have been selected for inclusion in several science writing anthologies, including The Best Science Writing of 2001.



Peter Meineck. New York University. He is Clinical Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Studies and specializes in the performance, reception and history of ancient drama and teaches Greek literature and mythology. He has also held appointments at Princeton University and the University of South Carolina and is also Special Lecturer at the University of Nottingham in the UK. He is originally from London and now resides in New York. He has studied in the departments of Greek and Latin at University College London and the University of Nottingham and worked extensively in London and New York Theatre. He is also the Artistic Director of Aquila Theatre which he founded in 1991 to present innovative productions of classical drama and has since produced and/or directed 47 shows, wrote, translated or adapted 18, and designed lighting for 33 in New York, London, Holland, Germany, Greece, Scotland, Canada, Bermuda, and the United States in venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall, the ancient Stadium at Delphi, Lincoln Center, and the White House. ( He is also heavily involved in Aquila’s education program at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem and Aquila’s national education programs Theatre Breakthroughs and Workshop America.




Stephen Mojzsis.University of Colorado and Universite Claude Bernard Lyon 1. The research carried out in my group is field- and laboratory-based, and seeks to understand such things as:

(i) How the surface state stabilized after planetary formation, to the time of the establishment of a permanently-oxygenated atmosphere;

(ii) When habitats for early life could have developed and the geophysical regimes that permitted the origin and proliferation of biological systems;

(iii) How the geomicrobiology of contemporary microbial communities provides some insight into the nature of the dominant biome(s) on the young Earth;

(iv) What information is preserved through physical/chemical changes endemic to high-grade metamorphic terranes; and
(v) What these results from the ancient rock record might mean in terms of the very establishment of habitability for Earth-like planets.



Ben Oppenheimer. American Museum of Natural History. He is a comparative exoplanetary scientist: he studies planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. This nascent field is so young that much of the work involves developing the techniques needed to see these planets, so that their light can be dissected and analyzed. His optics laboratory in the Rose Center is the birthplace of a number of new astronomical instruments designed to tackle this problem. In March 2004, Dr. Oppenheimer deployed the world’s most sensitive coronagraph at the AEOS Telescope in Maui. See for more information. In June 2008, his team deployed an even more precise and sensitive exoplanet imaging system at the Palomar Observatory. This instrument is called Project 1640 and involves researchers at AMNH, Cambridge, Caltech, and NASA/JPL. All of these instrumentation efforts, as well as several others including the starlight suppression system for the International Gemini Observatory Planet Imager project (GPI), were conducted in Oppenheimer’s lab in the Rose Center at AMNH.



Susan Perkins. American Museum of Natural History. Author of the Parasite of the Day blog. She is a microbiologist with three main research foci.  The first is the systematic, biogeographic and molecular evolutionary study of the protozoan parasites that cause malaria, including those that infect non-human hosts.  Her second main research focus is the study of symbiotic bacteria that are found in certain groups of blood-feeding leeches.  This project involves both morphological and molecular work and will soon enter the realm of genomics, as the hope is to sequence the entire genome of one type of these symbionts.  The third research focus is an examination of the patterns of genomics and geography, in relation to pathogenicity, of RNA viruses.



Dimitar Sasselov. Harvard University. Author of The Life of Super-EarthsProfessor of Astronomy. Director, Harvard Origins of Life Initiative. Senior Advisor in the sciences, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.


Exoplanets – Nature & formation; MOST & Kepler missions; New discoveries
Kepler – NASA Kepler mission
RECFAST – Detailed calculation of how the Early Universe became neutral
DIRECT – Distance determination to nearby galaxies
MOST – Microvariability & Oscillations of Stars Microsatellite Mission
Parallels in Creativity – Symposium on Art and Science



Caleb Scharf. Columbia University. Author of Gravity’s EnginesScientific American Blog: Life, Unbounded. He researches exoplanetary science and astrobiolgy. One goal of this research is to find planets that could harbor recognizable life, and to detect the presence of that life.




Photo: Spencer Wells, geneticistSpencer Wells. National Genographic Project. Cornell University. Author of The Journey of Man and Deep Ancestry. He is a leading population geneticist and director of the Genographic Project. His fascination with the past has led the scientist, author, and documentary filmmaker to the farthest reaches of the globe in search of human populations who hold the history of humankind in their DNA. By studying humankind’s family tree he hopes to close the gaps in our knowledge of human migration.

Wells is spearheading the Genographic Project, calling it “a dream come true.” His hope is that the project, which builds on Wells’s earlier work (featured in his book and television program, The Journey of Man) and is being conducted in collaboration with other scientists around the world, will capture an invaluable genetic snapshot of humanity before modern-day influences erase it forever. Wells is a Frank H.T. Rhodes Visiting Professor at Cornell University and the recipient of numerous scientific awards, grants and fellowships.

Music by Erik Tokle:




A show that explores the bigger questions.