Primordial Sulfur and the Origin of Life


  • Amanda Coyle MacEwan University (Under the supervision of Dr. Robert Hilts)


The study of meteorites can give insight regarding the chemical composition that was present when the solar system was being created. The elements in meteorites have not undergone extensive changes since they were formed billions of years ago, so they are thought to resemble those on Earth before the formation of the hydrosphere. This can lead to information regarding the formation of the solar system, Earth, and consequently, life. Sulfur is of interest because it has essential roles in biochemistry and a prevailing theory regarding the origin of life is that it began in an iron-sulfur world. By determining the sulfur composition of meteorites and the isotopic ratios – ratio of atoms of the same element with different atomic masses – we hope to determine the processes behind for formation of the form of sulfur responsible for the creation of life. This first stage of the project was to perfect wet chemistry and analytical techniques to extract and quantify sulfur species from meteorites. The development of the techniques required reading research literature, testing, and altering the techniques while working with a meteorite simulant. Multiple extractions with different solvents were used to differentially separate the sulfur species based on their chemical and physical properties. The extractions were pure with high yields. These techniques will be used to extract sulfur from the meteorites in the MacEwan collection, which will then undergo isotopic analysis.





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