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Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe


The Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe (LCLU) brings together researchers from Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, Institute of AstronomyDepartment of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical PhysicsYusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, Department of Earth Sciences, Department of ZoologyDepartment of History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Divinity, and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology to enable cross-disciplinary research on the origin, nature, and distribution of life in the Universe.

The Centre collaborates with researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, University College London, ETH Zurich, Harvard University and the Centre of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey.

The Centre combines the interests and research capabilities of the participating Institutes into a comprehensive and transformative programme. It aims at promoting excellence and innovation in a new field at the cutting edge of modern science and to become a driving force for international coordination of research and education.

The Centre's strategic objectives aim at enabling and supporting multidisciplinary research programmes through fellowships and seed funding, developing a coherent teaching syllabus to attract students, and offering opportunities for visiting scholars.



Until recently the Solar System was the only known planetary system that could be studied to expand our knowledge on planets and life in the Universe. That dramatically changed with the discovery of a large diversity of planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, spawning a real revolution and the rapid growth of a new field devoted to exoplanets. In just a quarter of a century we acquired a great wealth of knowledge about these "other" planetary systems, which stimulated the search for signs of life on these new worlds.

More recently, we have experienced outstanding progress in prebiotic chemistry. We are now able to create the building blocks of life under controlled laboratory conditions, which point to specific astrophysical and geological settings where this chemistry could occur.

In parallel there have been efforts in this direction such as the Mars 2020 exploration programme and a new generation of ground-based and space facilities designed to conduct research on planets and life in the Universe.

All this progress has pushed the boundaries of research to a point where the quest for life in the Universe becomes achievable. Understanding the origins and physical properties of planets throughout the Universe and the chemical and biological processes capable of initiating and sustaining life, and what life is will require collaborative efforts between the physical, biological, and mathematical sciences and the arts and humanities.

The creation of the Leverhume Centre for Life in the Universe responds to this new situation. Its goal is to harness simultaneous breakthroughs in astrophysics, planetology, organic chemistry, biology and cognate disciplines to tackle one of the great interdisciplinary challenges of our time: to develop a deeper understanding of life, its emergence, and its distribution in the Universe 

Research within the Centre focuses on four themes:

  • Identifying the chemical pathways to the origins of life. 
  • Characterising the environments on Earth and other planets that could act as the cradle of prebiotic chemistry and life.
  • Discovering and characterising habitable exoplanets and signatures of geological and biological evolution.
  • Refining our understanding of life through philosophical and mathematical concepts.

Learn more on research themes here.

Image credit: Sir Cam