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Research interests

My research is largely concerned with the habitability potential of planetary bodies within and outside our Solar System especially the possibility of life existing on the terrestrial planets and icy moons of our local neighbourhood. I am interested in where simple life forms may be hiding in the Solar System today and in the past, how we may be able to detect signs of its existence and how its ‘biosignatures’ are preserved within the geological record. Through this I hope to understand how life may first have arisen on the Earth and its potential to have also begun on other planetary bodies.

My research combines experimental simulations, fieldwork, and spectroscopic analyses, blending geological and biological methods, to better enable biosignature detection within materials on Earth, and ultimately on Mars, Europa, Titan and even within the atmospheres of exoplanets. My current projects focus on the use of Fourier Transform Infra-Red spectroscopy to identify biological materials within geological substrates. I use reflected light IR microscopy and diamond ATR techniques to study the degree of preservation of fatty acids and proteins over geological time within the most environmentally extreme habitats on Earth.

I am very interested in the training that goes into future space missions and as such have worked on numerous analogue mission simulations such as the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Lunar Analogue Mission: 'Lunar Sample Return from the South Pole–Aiken Basin' and the NASA 'Hi-SEAS' missions. I also created the CAFE – Concepts for Activities in the Field for Exploration catalogue for the European Space Agency to document terrestrial analogue environments appropriate for testing human space exploration-related scientific field activities.

Finally, I am fascinated in the human factors of space exploration and the preparations needed for us to visit and ultimately live in space, especially on the Moon and Mars.


Research techniques

  • Experienced user of Optical Microscopy (basic optical, Nikon LV100 POL Compound and Zeiss Colibri microscopes), Scanning Electron Microscopy techniques (JEOL5900LV, LEO1455VP) and Transmission Electron Microscopy.
  • Trained in:
    • Fourier Transform Infra-Red (FTIR) Spectroscopy techniques (Perkin Elmer Spectrum One; Bruker IFS55; Thermo Fisher and Nicolet Continuum Microscope)
    • ICP-AES sample solution preparation and analysis
    • Powder sample X-Ray Diffraction (XRD)
    • Sample preparation and analysis via Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS)
    • Clean room procedures and biohazard safety courses.
  • Conducted enumerations; biological sample preparation; DNA extraction from cultured microorganisms.

Louisa Preston

Goldilocks and the Water Bears: The Search for Life in the Universe