Life, the universe and everything

Are we alone in the universe? Thanks to powerful new telescopes, the answer to this question may be closer than ever before.

One of the most exciting developments in astronomy is the discovery of thousands of planets surrounding stars other than our Sun. But how do these exo-planets form, and why are they so different from those in our own solar system? Which ingredients are necessary to create them?

Prof. Ewine van Dishoeck has helped develop the most powerful telescopes on Earth to address these age-old questions. She does world-renowned research on the thin, ice-cold clouds of gas found between stars. Water and a surprisingly rich variety of organic materials are found here, including simple sugars. Can these pre-biotic molecules end up in comets and ultimately new planets and thus form the basis for life elsewhere in the universe?

Prof. dr. Ewine van Dishoeck is a professor of molecular astrophysics at Leiden University. She is one of the world’s leading researchers on molecular astronomy and astrochemistry and has been awarded, among others, the 2018 Kavli Prize for Astrophysics (also called the Nobel Prize in astronomy), the Dutch Spinoza Prize and the James Craig Watson Medal. The research of her group is at the boundary of astronomy and chemistry and uses ground- and space-based observatories to study the molecular trail from interstellar clouds to planet-forming disks. She holds many national and international science policy functions, including scientific director of the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) and president of the International Astronomical Union.

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