Astrobiology research features prominently in the new RPI School of Science brochure, with sections highlighting the undergraduate research projects of Varun Bajaj (with Doug Whittet) and Sebastian Mergelsburg (with Bruce Watson).
Searching for Life
Is there life elsewhere in the universe? This question lies at the heart of Rensselaer’s NASA-funded New York Center for Astrobiology. “We’re interested in how the matter that you need to make planetary life came to be: Where did it come from and how was it formed? And since it happened here in our solar system, is it likely to happen elsewhere as well?” said Doug Whittet, center director and Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy. Professor Whittet uses the spectrum of light coming from dust clouds surrounding young stars or in interstellar space to determine what molecules may be present in the clouds. Varun Bajaj, a student of physics, astronomy, and electronic arts, joined Whittet’s research group after taking his Origin of Life class. “Astrobiology uses many of the sciences — chemistry, biology, physics — and it leads to results that help explain the evolution of life.” Bajaj, who turned data from the Spitzer Space Telescope into an infrared spectrum of an interstellar cloud, said he chose Rensselaer for its emphasis on science, math, and engineering, and also for the accessibility of undergraduate research: “The thing that drew me to RPI was how in-depth the research opportunities are, and also how wide it is across all the sciences. You have an endless stream of opportunities as an undergraduate.”