Networking Friday with Zita Martins (Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal)

On November 6th, 2020, 1-2 PM UTC, we met Zita Martins, Associate Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST). She talked about Astrobiology: Origin and detection of life in the solar system. The moderator was Gaia Stucky de Quay, University of Texas at Austin

Science magazine considered the search for life in the Universe as one of the twenty-five major questions still unanswered in science, and with prominence during the next decade. To answer this question, scientists i) investigate how life on Earth came about, and ii) develop space missions to search for extra-terrestrial life. In case i) they analyse meteorites in the laboratory and make in-situ analyses of comets and asteroids. This is because it is known that the Earth received tons of organic molecules, that were delivered by these celestial bodies, from the formation of the solar system up until 3.8 billion years ago. Their analysis gives fundamental clues about the primitive Earth and how life on our planet could have potentially appeared. In case ii) it is necessary to first determine places in the solar system that have the conditions for life to arise and develop. Among them we find the planet Mars, and the icy moons Europa and Enceladus. Zita’s presentation discussed the origin of life in the solar system, and the various space missions in search of extra-terrestrial life.


Zits Martins

Zita Martins

Zita Martins is an Astrobiologist, an Associate Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) and Co-Director of the MIT-Portugal Program (MPP). Her scientific interests include the detection of signatures of extra-terrestrial life on space missions, and the potential contribution of meteorites and comets to the origin of life on Earth. She graduated in Chemistry at IST in 2002 and obtained a PhD in Astrobiology at the University of Leiden (Netherlands) in 2007. She was an Invited Scientist at NASA Goddard in 2005 and 2006, and an Invited Professor at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis (France) in 2012. In 2009 she was awarded by the Royal Society with a University Research Fellowship worth 1 million pounds, having remained at Imperial College London (United Kingdom) from 2007 to 2017. Zita Martins has been actively participating in space missions. She is Co-Investigator of two projects (OREOcube and EXOcube) of the European Space Agency (ESA) that will be installed on the International Space Station (ISS). She is a member of the ESA ARIEL space mission, she is a member of the Japanese Space Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 space mission, and the only Portuguese scientist on ESA’s class-F space mission Comet Interceptor. She is the Portuguese representative of the Executive Committee of the European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA), member of ESA’s Life Sciences Working Group (scientific advisory team), member of ESA’s Solar System and Exploration Working Group, and member of the European Space Sciences Committee ( ESSC). She actively does science communication, having given over 100 Science interviews in international media (more details at and, and was selected by the BBC TV channel as Expert Scientist Women. Her portrait was painted for the Royal Society’s exhibition on successful women in science and is now permanently on display at the Royal Society’s London headquarters. In 2015 Zita Martins was appointed “Oficial da Ordem Militar de Sant’Iago da Espada (Officer of the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword)” by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Portugal for exceptional and outstanding merits in science.


Gaia Stucky de Quay

Gaia Stucky de Quay

Gaia is a postdoctoral fellow at the Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin. Her primary research focus is on understanding the driving forces behind the formation, evolution, and decay of Solar System surfaces. In particular, she investigates the coupled interactions between climate, erosion, and tectonics recorded in landscapes at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. She emplys field mapping, remote sensing, geochronological and laboratory techniques, and fluvial erosion models to understand the role of water in shaping the landscapes we see. She is currently a member of the Planetary Surface Processes Group led by Dr. Tim Goudge, where she investigates how the ancient Mars climate is recorded in preserved valley and lake morphologies. During her PhD, she was a member of the Earth & Planets Group at Imperial College London, where she used quantitative tools to explore the evolution of a suite of landscapes: from buried landscapes in beneath the North Sea to one of the largest canyon and waterfall systems in Iceland. During her studies, she has also been a part of the Planetary Geosciences Group at the University of Chicago, where I studied channels and alluvial fans inside martian impact craters, as well as the Center for Planetary Sciences at the University College of London, where she looked at landslide distributions in the Valles Marineris canyon on Mars. She has won multiple awards such as the London Petrophysical Society’s Ian Hillier Award, which allowed her to conduct geochemical work on well cores from the North Sea, as well as various grants to fund expeditions around the world. More recently, she has developed a novel, international project to study the volcanic islands of the Atlantic Ocean, which has been awarded funding by the Royal Geographical Society among various others. This ambitious project will involve collaborators across various institutions and disciplines, with the ultimate goal of establishing these oceanic islands as terrestrial analogs for basaltic planetary surfaces, shedding light on their climate history and habitability potential in the past.

We will continue with the Networking Fridays during the next months. More information about future sessions as well as presentations and videos from previous sessions can be found here. Twitter Hashtag: #netfridays. Expect some very exciting afternoons, or mornings or evenings, depending on where you are…

If you need any additional information please send an email to Jose Luiz Moutinho.

Zita Martins

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