After being the first to discover a planet orbiting a sun-like star outside of our solar system, Professor Didier Queloz has turned his attention to the origins of life. He is now Co-Director of the University of Cambridge’s Cambridge Initiative for Planetary Science and Life in the Universe, and is creating a new ETH Centre for the Origin and Prevalence of Life at ETH Zurich.
Both centres will tap on interdisciplinary research to investigate the origins and nature of life. “My plan is to have a dialogue between these two centres and other institutions, to help develop this new field of research,” he added.
Prof Queloz changed the way scientists think about the planetary systems when he was the first to find and confirm the existence of an extrasolar planet, or exoplanet. Although the planet is uninhabitable due to its surface temperature of about 1,000 degrees Celsius, its announcement in 1995 kickstarted a race to find other exoplanets. Over 4,000 have been located, many by Prof Queloz himself, with incredible variety among them.
When Prof Queloz received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2019, alongside two other scientists, for his trailblazing work, the Nobel Prize committee said: “Strange new worlds are still being discovered. They challenge our preconceived ideas about planetary systems, and are forcing scientists to revise their theories of the physical processes behind the origins of planets.”
“With numerous projects planned to search for exoplanets, we may eventually find an answer to the eternal question of whether other life is out there,” it added.
Prof Queloz has had a hand in many of these projects. He took part in the first space mission dedicated to exoplanet research, started the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, project to launch a satellite to study known exoplanets, and has developed better instruments and techniques to detect exoplanets. He is also leading the Terra Hunting Experiment, which is an initiative by a group of universities and institutes to find Earth-like planets.
He shared the 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award, and won the 2017 Wolf Prize in Physics, among other honours. He is currently a Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge, University of Geneva and ETH Zurich.
Nobel Prize in Physics