Project sets out to find life on stars

Did life begin due to complex organic molecules being manufactured in the freezing centres of interstellar clouds like these?

A professor at Heriot-Watt University is to head up a major cross-European project having successfully secured £5.5million of funding.

Martin McCoustra, Professor of Chemical Physics applied for funding for LASSIE (Laboratory Astrochemical Surface Science in Europe) through the European Commission's 7th Framework Programme.

LASSIE will, in part, focus on the investigation into whether life began due to complex organic molecules being manufactured in the freezing centres of interstellar clouds. Professor McCoustra will work alongside astronomers and astrophysicists from 13 higher education institutes based across Europe, including Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The project will also provide job opportunities for 28 new researchers and four experienced researchers. Each will have the chance to work at the universities involved in the project, as well as gain practical experience thanks to the involvement of a number of industrial partners.

The funding was awarded at the end of last year by Marie Curie Actions within the Commission and is one of the largest sums ever secured, almost double the level usually awarded.

Professor McCoustra said: "This is an extremely exciting project and I am delighted that we have been able to secure the funding to allow us to progress with our research. "Whilst the project itself will provide the opportunity to establish a vital understanding into how life began and to question what we believe we know now, it is also the all round experience that we can offer those involved, which will equip them with the skills they need to take them further with their scientific careers."

LASSIE, which gets underway in April 2010, will take four years to complete.