The Asymmetry of Life: From Phase Transitions to Astrobiology

When: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm
Where: DA 114
Speaker: Marcelo Gleiser
Organization: Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Dartmouth College
Sponsor: Physics Colloquium

“Life is asymmetric. Amino acids that belong to all living things are “left handed,” while sugars are “right handed”. However, when solutions are synthesized in the lab, they come out 50-50 (racemic). Is life’s chirality an accident, or is it the result of biasing mechanisms that acted during Earth’s infancy? If life exists in other places, will it exhibit the same chiral bias as here? I will examine these questions of fundamental importance to astrobiology, exploring links between prebiotic chemistry and fundamental physics. In particular, I will argue that life’s chirality is a result of the coupling of prebiotic chemistry to the early planetary environment and is thus unique to a particular planetary history.”