mars covered glacial deposits middle latitudes


John Scalo


Department of Astronomy

I am a professor in the astronomy department who mostly studies theoretical approaches to turbulent phenomena and the transition to conformational biophysical activity on extrasolar planets.

I study the physics of inertial particles in turbulent environments, such as planetesimals in protoplanetary disks and droplet coalescence in turbulent clouds. The physics is surprisingly rich and unexplored. I also work on developing a physically realistic procedure for treating mixing of chemical species in turbulent astrophysical settings.

As a member of the VPL Lead Team of the National Astrobiology Institute (NAI), I work on the photochemistry of oxygenated atmospheres of M star terrestrial-like or SuperEarth habitable zone planets irradiated by frequent flares. I enjoy the possibility of a system so far from equilibrium that it cannot easily be simulated.

I spend most of my time on a longer-term project that combines polymer physics with studies of biological macromolecules to quantify the conditions for elementary conformational behavior loop closure, folding, reversible denaturation-- as a prerequisite for the transition to biochemical activity.

I am a new collaborator with the Titan Prebiotic Chemistry Consortium, another NAI team. I will work on the effects of cosmic rays on chemistry and polymerization on Titan-like worlds. My main goal is to find whether the relatively weak thermal fluctuations on Titan are sufficient, when coupled to noncovalent macromolecular interactions, to drive a biochemistry, as they do on Earth; i.e. is Titan too cold for life? I am interested in astrobiological projects that can result in definite answers to major questions without either extreme speculation or intensive molecular dynamics simulations. The downside is the labor-intensive acquisition of interdisciplinary background.