Abigail Allwood

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Abigail Allwood is an Australian geologist and astrobiologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who studies stromatolites, detection of life on other planets, and evolution of life on early Earth. Her early work gained notability for finding evidence of life in 3.45 billion year old stromatolites in the Pilbara formation in Australia, which was featured on the cover of the journal Nature.[1][2] She is now a principal investigator on the Mars Rover 2020 team searching for evidence of life on Mars using the Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL).[3] Allwood is the first female and first Australian principal investigator on a NASA Mars mission.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Allwood grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and was inspired by Carl Sagan and his description of the Voyager missions in the series Cosmos.[1] She went on to achieve an undergraduate degree in geosciences, and completed her PhD at Macquarie University in Australia in 2006 under the advisement of Dr. Malcolm Walter.[3] During her PhD, she published on 3.45 billion years old stromatolites in the Pilbara formation, describing the diversity of early life on the Archean Earth.[5] She went on to do postdoctoral work at JPL, where she is currently a principal investigator on the Mars rover mission set for 2020.[6]


Allwood has published extensively on characterizing stromatolites using various techniques.[5][7][8] In 2018, she published a study of 3.7 billion years old metasedimentary rocks in the Isua formation in Greenland. In this study, she and colleagues analyzed structures which were previously determined to be biogenic stromatolites.[9][10] However, Allwood concluded that the putatively biogenic structures were structures caused by deformation, receiving media attention.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b Parker, Laura (2018-05-14). "Can Abigail Allwood Find Life on Mars?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  2. ^ "Volume 441 Issue 7094, 8 June 2006". www.nature.com. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  3. ^ a b "Is there life on Mars?". BBC Culture. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  4. ^ Moore, Nicky Phillips, Tony (2014-08-05). "Australian scientist Abigail Allwood first woman to lead project team for life on Mars". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  5. ^ a b Burch, Ian W.; Marshall, Craig P.; Kamber, Balz S.; Walter, Malcolm R.; Allwood, Abigail C. (2006). "Stromatolite reef from the Early Archaean era of Australia". Nature. 441 (7094): 714–718. doi:10.1038/nature04764. ISSN 1476-4687.
  6. ^ "Science - JPL's Science Division: People: Abigail Allwood". science.jpl.nasa.gov. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  7. ^ Kanik, Isik; Coleman, Max L.; Anderson, Mark S.; Burch, Ian W.; Knoll, Andrew H.; Grotzinger, John P.; Allwood, Abigail C. (2009-06-16). "Controls on development and diversity of Early Archean stromatolites". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (24): 9548–9555. doi:10.1073/pnas.0903323106. ISSN 1091-6490. PMID 19515817.
  8. ^ "Trace elements record depositional history of an Early Archean stromatolitic carbonate platform". Chemical Geology. 270 (1–4): 148–163. 2010-02-15. doi:10.1016/j.chemgeo.2009.11.013. ISSN 0009-2541.
  9. ^ Heirwegh, Christopher M.; Hurowitz, Joel A.; Flannery, David T.; Rosing, Minik T.; Allwood, Abigail C. (2018). "Reassessing evidence of life in 3,700-million-year-old rocks of Greenland". Nature. 563 (7730): 241–244. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0610-4. ISSN 1476-4687.
  10. ^ Chivas, Allan R.; Kranendonk, Martin J. Van; Friend, Clark R. L.; Bennett, Vickie C.; Nutman, Allen P. (2016). "Rapid emergence of life shown by discovery of 3,700-million-year-old microbial structures". Nature. 537 (7621): 535–538. doi:10.1038/nature19355. ISSN 1476-4687.
  11. ^ "'World's oldest fossils' may just be pretty rocks". Science & Innovation. 2018-10-17. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  12. ^ Yong, Ed (2018-10-17). "Oops, the Oldest Fossils Ever Found Might Be Just Rocks". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-05.