Space Science Division
University of Lerida, Spain
Who I am and what I do
Since 1993, I have been Head of the Electron Microscopy Service of the
University of Lleida, Spain. Effectively, microscopy and microanalysis
are my tools for searching for microbial life, microbial fossils and
their traces in extreme and Mars-like environments in both terrestrial
and extraterrestrial lithic materials. My goal is to gain knowledge
on lithobiontic and extremoresistant microbial ecosystems and then design
new investigation strategies so that, if present, no sign of life, past
or present, will go unnoticed.
Areas of expertise
Mineralogy, Geochemistry, Geomicrobiology, Electron Microscopy, Microanalysis,
Biodeterioration, Lithobiontic microorganisms, Micropaleontology, Astro/Exobiology.
What helped me prepare me for this job
First of all curiosity and a desire for knowledge of the truth. Such
knowledge “lights the way” for science and is the basis
for the progress I have made in all the above areas of expertise.
My education and training
I hold an MSc in Chemistry from the University of M. Sklodowska-Curie
in Lublin, Poland. After my Master’s degree, I worked in the areas
of mineralogy and soil structure at the Agrophysics Institute, PAN,
in Lublin, where I obtained a PhD.
My career path
My background in environmental microbiology, geomicrobiology and also
microscopy is the result of my work at the Environmental Science Center,
CSIC, Madrid with Prof. Carmen Ascaso (CSIC, Madrid) supported by a
In 1993, I took on the post of Head of the Electron Microscopy Service
of the University of Lleida, Spain. In 1997, Prof. Imre Friedmann of
Florida State University invited C. Ascaso and me to collaborate with
him in two challenging projects. In the first of these, I became involved
in working on the microbiology of the extreme environments of the dry
valleys of Antarctica. In the second project, I became a member of the
research team that searched for traces of life in the famous meteorite
from Mars – ALH84001. I was invited by Chris McKay to participate
in the expedition to the Atacama Desert in 2005 and to the Negev desert
in the spring of 2006.
What I like most about my job
As a scientist whose daily work tools are microscopes, I often feel
like an explorer of the microcosmos. My microscopy studies constantly
remind me of how small microbes and their environments really are and
that microscopy is the key to understanding this world and therefore
to finding any sign that could indicate the presence of life. What is
really exciting about my job is the privilege of seeing what nobody
else has seen and consequently of thinking about what nobody else has
My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Only two criteria will help us identify life: structure and any unique
chemical features. Microscopy, capable of simultaneous imaging and spectroscopy,
is especially useful for identifying life’s signatures. However,
if you adopt a routine approach to microscopy, your output will be low.
If you try to be innovative, you can only do so in small steps by gradually
robbing the sample of its secrets using electrons as your tool. This
is not always possible and never easy, but only when we can easily recognize
life in Earth’s environments, we will be prepared to search for
life outside our planet.