Venue of the HIFOL colloquia:

Königstuhl 17, Heidelberg: Auditorium of Haus der Astronomie

Coming Colloquia

03.05.2017 – Frank Postberg

(Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Heidelberg)

Title: "The Search for Life on Icy Ocean Moons in the Solar System"


Until the end of the 1990’s the claim that there is no liquid water in the solar system beyond Earth, was the prevailing opinion. With the close exploration of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn by the Galileo spacecraft and the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, respectively, this view has been changed dramatically. Although located far from the sun where the surface temperatures are well below -100°C, liquid water exits in massive quantities in the form of oceans lying under the icy crusts of many moons circulating about the giant planets. 

The composition of Enceladus’ ocean can be probed by analyzing the moons icy plumes that, driven by cryo-volcanic activity, were found to be in connection with the sub-surface salty ocean. The compositional results from Cassini-Huygens changed the general view on habitability of the outer solar system. Recent observations by the Hubble space telescope indicated similar plumes connected to the subsurface at Europa.

The main energy source that keeps the water liquid, even at great solar distances, is tidal energy dissipated into the moons by the strong gravity fields of their giant host planets. In the case of Europa and Enceladus the oceans are in contact with the rocky cores of the moons, allowing rock/water interaction at the ocean floors  and there is strong indication for hydrothermal sites. In similar places on the bottom of Earth’s oceans hydrothermal vents harbour an abundance of life forms that thrive independently from sunlight. Missions are currently prepared to further explore the habitability of  Europa and Enceladus and to actually look for signs of extraterrestrial life.

14.06.2017 – Mark Harrison

(University of California, Los Angeles)

Title: "A New View of Early Earth and its Habitability"


The ubiquity of origin myths among human societies suggests that our species has an innate need to explain how Earth formed and came to its present state. The controls on myth fabrication include the limitations of the available historical record and the technological capability of the culture in question. Despite our impressive technology and a western cultural bias to watery origins, when the scientific community encountered the limits of its historical record – there are no known rocks older than 4 Ga – it chose the paradigm of a desiccated, continent-free wasteland in which surface petrogenesis was largely due to bollide impact into a basaltic substrate and called it the “Hadean” (hellish time). But the story emerging from geochemical investigations of >4 Ga Jack Hills zircons is of their formation in water-rich granites under relatively low geothermal gradients. These results have been interpreted as reflecting chemical weathering and sediment cycling in the presence of both liquid water and plate boundary interactions shortly after Earth accretion. Given general agreement that life could not have emerged until liquid water appeared at or near the Earth’s surface, a significant implication is that our planet may have been habitable as much as 500 Ma earlier than previously thought. Indeed, recent C isotopic evidence obtained from inclusions in Hadean zircons is consistent with life having emerged by 4.1 Ga, or several hundred million years earlier that the hypothesized lunar cataclysm. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of these observations drawn from ancient zircons is that none were predicted from theory. Rather, generations of models essentially innocent of observational constraints fed the longstanding paradigm. What compelled the scientific community to develop its own origin myth – of a hellish beginning – in the absence of direct evidence? While science is clearly distinguished from mythology by its emphasis on verification, its practitioners may be as subject to the same existential need for explanations as any primitive society. 

26.07.2017 – Sebastian Pallmann

(Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München)

Title: "Scouting Chemical Networks"


In this talk an overview of the current research in the fields of Origin of Life in the group of Prof. Dr. Oliver Trapp will be given. It will be based on the state of the art literature and the propositions therein of how life could have emerged in a chemical context. From there on different projects ranging from the studies of distinct energy sources to the reevaluation of known but unsolved reaction networks will be introduced and their results thus far. Among such projects will be mechanically and light induced reactions, phosphorylation reactions, sugar related reactions in atypical solvents as well as classic experimental set-ups like the formose and Miller-type reaction. The talk will finally conclude on the challenges in the qualitive and quantitative analysis of complex samples produced by those studies.

08.11.2017 – Ralf Kaiser

(University of Hawaii)

Title: "Exploiting Tunable Vacuum Ultraviolet Light to Unravel the Synthesis of Biorelevant Molecules in Deep Space"

Past Colloquia

12.04.2017 – Bernard Marty

(Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, France)

Title: "Origin of Water and other Volatile Elements in Inner Planets, in the Light of the Recent Results from the Rosetta Mission"

11.01.2017 – Edwin Bergin

(University of Michigan, Department of Astronomy)

Title: "Tracing the Ingredients of Habitable Worlds from the Interstellar Medium through Planet Formation"

21.12.2016 – Uwe J. Meierhenrich

(Université Nice Sophia Antipolis Institut de Chimie de Nice)

Title: "The Cometary Rosetta Mission: Analytical Chemistry on the Nucleus of Comet 67P"

30.11.2016 – Christian Hallmann

(Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry, MARUM, University of Bremen)

Title: "Biomarker-hydrocarbon indicators for the early evolution of life on Earth"

16.11.2016 – Albrecht Ott

(Universität des Saarlandes)

Title: "Spontaneous Autocatalysis in a Prebiotic Broth"

05.10.2016 – Bruce Fegley

(Washington University St. Louis)

Title: "Chemical models of Earth's early atmosphere"

01.06.2016 – Peter Schuster

(University of Vienna)

Title: "From Darwin’s Natural Selection to Reproducing Molecular Networks"

18.05.2016 – Ximena C. Abrevaya

(CONICET, Buenos Aires)

Title: "Astrobiology: interdisciplinary approaches for a multidisciplinary science"

11.05.2016 – Paul Higgs

(Origins Institute, McMaster University, Ontario)

Title: "From Chemistry to Biology: How did the RNA World get started?" (Organized by Th. K. Henning) 

06.04.2016 – Farid Salama

(NASA-Ames Research Center, CA, USA)

Title: "Organic Matter in Space" (Organized by Th. K. Henning) 

09.03.2016 – Lisa Kaltenegger

(Associate Professor of Astronomy @ Cornell University and Director of the Carl Sagan Institute)

Title: "Rocky Exoplanets and the Scientific Concept of Habitable Worlds"

10.02.2016 – Ralph Pudritz

(McMaster University Hamilton, Canada)

Title: "Amino acid and Nucleobase Synthesis in Meteoritic Parent Bodies"

Presentation from speakers

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