The Australian Centre for Astrobiology was founded by Prof. Malcolm Walter in July 2001 at Macquarie University, and then moved to the University of New South Wales in 2008. It is the only centre of astrobiological research in Australia and is an Associate Member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, one of only two in the world. The ACA also has close links with the European Space Agency and other international space agencies and institutions around the world.
Our mission statement is:
"To provide an environment for world-leading interdisciplinary research into the origin and evolution of life on Earth, across the Solar System and throughout the Universe, and to disseminate those research outcomes to academic communities, students, and the general public across the globe."
Astrobiology is a relatively new field of study, developing at the crossroads of astronomy, biology, geology, paleontology, physics and chemistry. The ACA is one of the few organisations in the world that is truly inter- and multi-disciplinary in a way that reflects the goals and aspirations of astrobiology as a scientific discipline. Its key goals include contributing to the understanding of what makes a habitable planet, studying the co-evolution of life and habitats on early Earth, and helping to guide the exploration for life outside of our world.
ACA members participate in collaborative research with scientists at institutions from across the globe, focussing on three main areas of investigation:
- The evolution of early life and its relation to changing habitats over time;
- The search for exoplanets and habitable worlds;
- The community structure of stromatolites (microbial communities that form laminated rock structures) and diversity of cyanobacteria.
The ACA also has a world-leading media, education and outreach program related to its research – including a Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney - that has attracted Australian Federal funding. The ACA has developed, in association with NASA, a “virtual field trip” that allows students to join scientists in ACA field study areas in the Pilbara and Shark Bay, Western Australia, where research is being conducted on Modern stromatolites and the world’s oldest convincing evidence of life (also stromatolites), respectively.
ACA members are leaders in their field, are widely published, attract significant research funding, contribute to scientific discussion at international meetings and on the web, and have been awarded for their research. For example, Professor Walter, Professor Neilan and Dr Burns were awarded a prestigious Eureka Award in 2005 to acknowledge the success of their interdisciplinary research. The Federal Government recently awarded Professor Neilan a Federation Fellowship. In 2009, Professor Walter won an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellowship. Prof. Tinney is an Australian Research Council Discovery Outstanding Research Awardee. Prof Van Kranendonk was the 2012 European Association for Geochemistry Eminent Speaker Awardee.