Federal Centre for Complexity and Exobiology

About COEX









University of Liège (ULg), AGO department

Address: Astrophysics, Geophysics and oceanography (AGO) Dept, 17 allee du 6 Aout, B5c, 4000 Liège (Sart-Tilman)
Contact persons: E Javaux  (04 366 9763) and JP swings


Within the AGO department, several areas of research in astrobiology are being developed and include the search for signs of life in the solar system and beyond. The detection of extrasolar life involves the detection of exoplanets, in particular Earth-like ones, and the analysis of their atmospheric composition to detect potential spectroscopic biosignatures such as ozone, carbon dioxyde or water. The search for past or present life beyond Earth requires a solid understanding of life's origin and evolution on the only planet on which life is known to exist-the Earth. Hence, the search for evidence of life and environments on the early Earth, where life originated, evolved and later developed complexity constitute critical components in developing mission plans for astro/exobiology space missions. Study of comet composition is also important, as they might have played an important role in delivering prebiotic material to Earth. Beside the AGO department, members of other ULg departments are also involved in projects related to astrobiology, some of them supported by ESA (such as the “Bed-rest Studies”, the MELISSA project).

Research Projects

1. Astrobiology: characterization of biosignatures for exobiology and evolution of the early biosphere

This research consists in characterizing biosignatures for the detection of life in our solar system and beyond. The characterization of biosignatures for exobiology includes 1) a combination of morphological, microchemical and experimental approaches on fossil and recent microorganisms from normal to extreme environments to determine the biological affinities of fossil microorganisms and the evolution of the early biosphere; 2) the building of a database for the identification of traces of life in our solar system (Aurora program) and in exoplanetary atmospheres (spectroscopic markers, DARWIN mission). http://www.astro.ulg.ac.be/GRech/AEOS/ABIO/

2. Exoplanet detection and characterization

The HARIGS group is involved in the DARWIN/TPF project (theoretical work on the aperture configurations and innovative achromatic phase shifters, APS), in the design of a nulling instrument (GENIE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) and in the development of the four quadrant phase mask coronagraph (FQPM). http://vela.astro.ulg.ac.be/themes/telins/harigs/

3. Comets

The knowledge of organic chemistry in molecular clouds, comets, and meteorites and their common links provides information and constraints on the processes that lead to the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the galaxy. Since cometary and meteoritic impacts on earth may have delivered large amounts of organic molecules, it is critical to understand comets, usually thought to be the most pristine members of the solar system, and to answer the question: how much of the organic material present in these primitive bodies is interstellar in origin. Detailed spectroscopic studies in which we are involved and namely the determination of isotopic ratios in comets may help answering these questions, central to the life cycle of organics in the galaxy

4. Others :

  • Microbial diversity and adaptations to extreme conditions
  • -Bed-rest Studies (effect of gravity on physiology)
  • -MELISSA project (bio-reactor for Space Life Support systems)
  • -Evolution of major biogeochemical cycles

Other (Public outreach, conferences, equipments ...)

1. Public outreach
  • Conferences “l’astrobiologie” department AGO, ULG, 19/12/03 ;
  • SAL (Astronomical Society of, Liège), Institute of Zoology, Liège, September 2004 ( E Javaux )
  • Interview for RTBF TV NIOUZZ (news for kids) “water on mars and the possibility of life”;
  • Interview for “ les nouvelles en ligne” ULG (E Javaux);
  • Interviews for RTBF, RTL-TVI, BFM, radio campus ULB, le Soir, la Libre Belgique, le 15eme Jour « AURORA » (JP Swings);
  • Interview for rtbf tv show niouzz “the place of man in the universe” (J Surdej);
  • press releases ESO 25/3/04, Ulg 09/04 (comet group)

2. Teaching

  • class for 2 nd year biology students (life in hydrothermal vents and astrobiology); class for 3rd year geology students (origins and evolution of life in the Precambrian, and astrobiology); half-day seminars for 1st year students (bac) in geology, life sciences, physics, starting 2004-5; specialized astrobiology class (30h + 15h) for students enrolled in the Master of Geology, Master of Sciences and Master of Spatial Sciences, starting in 2007 (E Javaux)
  • Interferometry ; general astrophysics for students in physics and engineering (J Surdej)
  • Space missions for engineering students (JP Swings)

3. Others

  • 10 invited presentations, 17 oral presentations, 3 posters related to Astrobiology
  • ESA-Prodex, SPPPS return grant to Javaux, FP6 grant-European Interferometry Initiative, Organization of international workshops and conferences


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