The Physics of the Emergence of Life

30 August – 17 September 2021

Dieter Braun, Job Boekhoven, Paola Caselli, Barbara Ercolano, Erwin Frey, Ulrich Gerland, Oliver Trapp

How life originated on Earth is one of the deepest (and unanswered) questions of humankind. Answers to it will directly connect to another puzzle: are we alone or could life originate elsewhere in the Universe? While the general question is age-old, progress in diverse fields now makes the origins of life problem much more amenable to the scientific method: through astronomical observations and by bottom-up lab experiments that combine astrochemistry, geology, theory, physics and biochemistry.

However, continued progress requires vigorous interdisciplinary dialogue between different fields and a productive engagement between experiments and theory.

The ultimate aim is to uncover the beginning of biology. Life is abundant around us - plants, microbes, larger animals. This was not the case on early Earth. What processes could allow non-living matter to create the evolutionary machinery of replication, mutation and selection? How could life establish itself so robustly? Even though life on earth likely emerged slowly over billions of years, discovering the combination of mechanisms that enable the emergence of self-reproduction and capacity to evolve in the lab may well be possible on human timescales.