Stéphanie Valleau, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stanford University

Education: Harvard University, Ph.D., Chemical Physics
Institution: Stanford University (laboratory of Todd J. Martinez)

SCOL Project: Atomistic Exploration of Abiogenesis with a Nanoreactor

In this project, we aim to understand how life-essential molecules were formed using a theoretical lens. We will investigate how atoms and molecules could have combined in the presence of carbon-nitrogen and sulfur compounds to produce the fundamental building blocks of life: amino acids, nucleotides and lipids. This will be carried out on video cards and large computer clusters using the laws of classical and quantum mechanics to follow the movement of all atoms. We will define a bubble of life containing the initial molecules in a specific environment, for instance in a water pool. The compounds will interact and collide, bonds will be broken and new bonds formed. Hundreds of picoseconds later we will examine what has been created. We will look at the time-dependent evolution of this bubble to find intermediate structures and determine how fast the whole process occurred. We will also investigate the influence of external factors such as temperature and pressure and whether adding/removing specific compounds strongly influences the reactions. Ultimately we will see whether the products can combine to form long chains, the ancestors and precursors of RNA.

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