Severin Wipf - PhD student in the AG Elsäßer
On the trail of life in space
As part of his PhD thesis, Severin Wipf is investigating the stability of organic compounds in different environments in our solar system and is contributes with his work to the scientific efforts of detection of life in space. He is part of Dr. Andreas Elsäßer's research group "Experimental Biophysics and Space Sciences", which collaborates with ESA, the German Aerospace Center DLR and NASA.
Question: What are you currently working on?
Severin Wipf: In preparation for a future space experiment on the International Space Station, we perform several laboratory experiments about how certain organic compounds behave under space conditions. I am currently trying to simulate the environmental conditions on Mars in the laboratory as part of an experiment we do together with scientists from NASA.
Question: Why do researchers need such laboratory experiments?
Severin Wipf: On the one hand, laboratory experiments always provide us with new basic knowledge about possible processes in the origin of life. On the other hand, we want to ensure very good control of the experiments that will then take place in the actual research environment, the space.
This is of high importance, since for our research project, we only have a one single chance: our samples and our measuring instruments will be brought to the ISS on a Space-X launch vehicle in 2024. The ESA astronauts will receive them and then they will be attached to the outside of the station with a robotic arm. We have to prepare everything perfectly so that the samples and the technology survive the transport and the extreme conditions well and provide us with high quality data in good quantities. For such elaborate experiments, we don't have the possibility to repeat them several times.
Question: What fascinates you about such research projects?
Severin Wipf: The technical side is extremely exciting: thanks to very compact and robust measuring instruments we can follow the changes of our samples from our laboratory in Berlin for approximately six months before they return back to Earth. In addition, the collaboration of leading researchers in international teams is very inspiring and motivates me for more and more new projects.
AG Elsaesser - Experimental Biophysics and Space Sciences