UK Centre for Astrobiology

About Us

Information about the UK Centre for Astrobiology.

The mission of the UK Centre for Astrobiology is to discover how habitable worlds form in the Universe and how life emerges, proliferates and leaves traces on these worlds. We do this with a combination of theoretical, laboratory, field and mission approaches. We apply this knowledge to improving the quality of life on Earth and developing space exploration as two mutually enhancing objectives.


Key facts:

  • The UK Centre for Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary research centre, established at the University of Edinburgh in 2011. A five-year review of our accomplishments was published in 2016.
  • Our research aims to discover the conditions that give rise to habitable worlds and to reveal how life emerges, proliferates and leaves traces on such worlds. 
  • Since 2011, researchers affiliated with the UKCA have published nearly 200 peer-reviewed papers. Our scientific work has ranged across microbiology, paleobiology, planetary physics and planetary chemistry, space engineering and missions, and space policy and philosophy. We collaborate with scientists all over the world, including the Europe, US, China, India and elsewhere.
  • Participants in the centre work across a number of institutes in the university including the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions (CSEC), The Centre for Exoplanet Science, the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) and other world-leading groups across the University of Edinburgh.


Selected achievements

  • The UKCA led and launched its own experiments in space, notably BioRock and BioAsteroid, which represented the first demonstrations of biomining in space, in support of future human space settlement. We have participated in other space missions and UKCA members are on numerous spacecraft science teams.
  • We have published numerous influential papers, e.g., showing that life in dark subsurface environments outweighed life at the Earth's surface for at least half the history of the biosphere; showing that perchlorates and UV radiation act synergistically to suppress the habitability of the martian surface; contributing to major studies of the K-T boundary extinction event; and extending the known limits of life under physical and chemical extremes.
  • We have made significant advances in astrobiology and planetary sciences education, social impact and outreach (see below).


Other major achievements

The centre has led international initiatives such as the biological work in BASALT, a NASA-supported programme to prepare for the human exploration of Mars, and it led an EU-funded Mars analogue research program (MASE). The UKCA established and since 2013 has run the world’s first underground astrobiology laboratory and associated technology testing programme (MINAR) that links space exploration with the Earth-based challenges of clean and efficient mining. This was the first sustained planetary analogue programme to be set up and run in the UK.


Teaching and outreach

The centre is firmly embedded in the long and outstanding traditions of excellence in research-led undergraduate and postgraduate teaching at the University of Edinburgh, which was founded in 1582. The UKCA led and offered the world’s first on-line course (MOOC) in astrobiology in 2012, which has attracted over 150,000 students. Since 2016, the centre has led an initiative – Life Beyond – to use astrobiology and space exploration to advance education in prisons. The centre has had a strong public outreach programme, including a nationwide astrobiology initiative at primary to secondary school transition as part of the Scottish government's RAISE (Raising Aspirations in Science Education) program.

You can read about some of our recent activities in the News section.