NWO invests in interdisciplinary planetary and exoplanetary research

9 December 2013

NWO is starting a new interdisciplinary research programme in which astronomers and earth scientists will collaborate in the area of planetary and exoplanetary research. Within this Planetary and Exoplanetary Science programme (PEPSci) scientists will investigate earth-like planets and seek to answer whether, and if yes, how life on other planets inside and outside of our solar system has developed.

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Over the next few years eight teams within PEPSci will collaborate on two themes: 'the detection of biomarkers for extraterrestrial life' and 'the formation and evolution of earth-like planets'. Within the two themes all types and methods of research within planetary research will be used, including astronomical observations, geophysical modelling, lab simulations, instrumentation/technology, geochemistry and atmospheric research.

With this collaborative programme, NWO wants to ensure that the Netherlands remains at the forefront of new discoveries and the development of technology. Recent discoveries and the data that are becoming available with the latest instruments necessitate an interdisciplinary approach that encourages excellent scientists from different disciplines and enables them to collaborate intensively within a strong network.

Thirteen astronomers and earth scientists are working together within the eight teams. These include geoscientist Inge Loes ten Kate from Utrecht University, who is working on the detection of biomarkers for extraterrestrial life, and astronomer Ignas Snellen from Leiden University who will focus on research into exoplanetary atmospheres. Ten Kate: 'We need to combine the expertise of earth and life scientists so that we can gain a thorough picture of the new planets that will be discovered in the coming years. I hope that this network will form the basis for a long tradition of joint and interdisciplinary research in this direction.' Snellen adds: 'In a few years time we hope to take the first steps in the search for extraterrestrial life - an incredibly exciting time. Collaboration between astronomers of scientists is absolutely vital for this.'

PEPSci is an NWO programme with a budget of 2 million euros that will be used to appoint eight PhD students and postdocs. PEPSci is a 4-year programme based on the successful astrochemistry programme, in which a network of astronomers and chemists was formed. The programme is jointly funded by NWO Earth and Life Sciences, NWO Physical Sciences and SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

Source: NWO