SETI Institute Principal Investigator
As a member of the SETI Institute’s NAI team, Cynthia Phillips is teasing apart the conflicting processes that shape the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Europa is bombarded by radiation from space that may, ironically, both promote life and threaten it. The radiation that reaches Europa can energize chemical reactions, possibly creating the building blocks of life. But with prolonged exposure to these harsh rays, complex organic compounds might be destroyed. Phillips is investigating these twin processes of creation and destruction, trying to determine which one is dominant. The key may be “gardening,” a process that churns the surface material of Europa as it is hit by micrometeorites, moving upper layers of the surface downward, perhaps far enough to keep any organic matter intact. Her research is all the more intriguing because liquid water may exist just below Europa’s icy crust, ready to receive any complex materials that make their way down from the surface.
- SETI Institute Explorer, Special Edition 2005
Cynthia Phillips is also the Principal Investigator for a new NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the SETI Institute. This summer program will bring 11 undergraduates from around the country to the SETI Institute for 10 weeks over the summer, where they will learn about astrobiology and get hands-on experience doing research with a SETI Institute scientist. Students will also take a field trip to Hat Creek Radio Astronomy Observatory and Lassen Volcanic National Park to do some observing and field work.