Hands-on at this exhibit

  • Power a turbine by chemical reactions. 
  • Grow synthetic membranes under a microscope.
  • Analyse the atmospheres of exoplanets using spectroscopy.


Clues from our oceans suggest life could be possible on billions of planets in our galaxy.

Discover the origins of life from restless planets to living cells in this fascinating video from our exhibitors.

When seawater meets iron-rich rocks in the ocean crust, highly reactive hydrothermal vents arise and produce complex carbon-rich molecules. Our exhibit shows how the origins of life can form from simple ingredients, and how we’re scouring the universe for planets with life-forming potential.

Hydrothermal vents are helping us to understand the conditions that could drive the emergence of life on any planet. Reactions between water, CO2 and the rock mineral olivine in these oceanic melting pots can give rise to the organic building blocks needed for life, from amino acids needed for proteins to the lipids found in cell membranes. These organics can be concentrated by convection within these vents, theoretically giving rise to protocells and complex organic molecules including DNA. By measuring the spectrum of light passing through the atmosphere of distant planets, we can detect the presence of these three vital ingredients. From that, we estimate that conditions suitable for life might exist on as many as 40 billion planets in the Milky Way alone.

Lead image: Growing synthetic materials could reveal the origins of life on our planet and in outer space.