Are we on the cusp of answering the biggest questions of all?

They are the biggest unknowns, questions we ponder every time we look at the stars: What is life? Are we alone in the universe? How does life happen?

A lecture series at the University of Auckland will reveal the best answers scientists currently have.

The talks, featuring leading international and New Zealand scientists, explore how we can detect worlds so far away we can barely imagine them, as well as space missions to a planet a little closer to home, Mars.

Other topics covered in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture Series include fundamental questions on what life is, how it began and the origin and evolution of the Universe.

Professor Kathleen Campbell, an astrobiologist in the University of Auckland’s School of Environment and Te Ao Mārama, the Centre for Fundamental Inquiry, says it is very possible we might one day discover Earth-like planets which support life.

“Science is reaching so far beyond what we once understood that many scientists believe it is not only possible we will one day find alien life, but that it might be sooner than we once thought,” she says.

Professor Kathy Campbell

The lecture series includes an expert panel session hosted by Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill.

Two visiting scientists will take part in the series including Professor Maria-Paz Zorzano of the Astrobiology Center of the National Institute of Aerospace Technology in Spain who is closely involved in the ExoMars 2020 mission that will see a remote-controlled vehicle landed on the Red Planet for the first time.

Also visiting is Professor David Bennett of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland who will speak on NASA’s plans for future space missions to find Earth-like planets.

Finally, leading cosmologist Professor Richard Easther from the University of Auckland will talk about the two most fundamental ingredients needed to support life and our current understanding of cosmology that shapes our thinking on when – and where – it can form.

“We think this will be a fascinating series, aimed at the general public, and addressing some of the biggest questions people can ask: are we alone and how did we get here?” he says.

Professor Richard Easther

The Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture Series for 2019 is hosted by Te Ao Mārama, the Centre for Fundamental Inquiry and runs from 5 to 13 September.

Lectures are free and open to the public and will be held at 6pm in the Sir Owen G Glenn Building (Business School), 12 Grafton Rd.

Media contact

Anne Beston | Media adviser
DDI 09 923 3258
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