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Alfonso Davila

Alfonso F. Davila

Research Scientist

Affiliation: NASA Ames Research Center

Branch: Exobiology Branch (STX)


Phone: 650-604-0695

Read Alfonso Davila‘s interview

Professional Biography

Since 2017—Research Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center

2009-2017—Research Scientist at the SETI Institute

2006-2009—Post-Doctorate, NASA Ames Research Center, USA


2005—PhD Geophysics, University of Munich, Germany.

2003—MS, Marine Geology & Physics, University of Vigo, Spain.

2001—BS, Marine Sciences, University of Vigo, Spain

Research Interests

I am a Research Scientist in the Exobiology Branch at NASA Ames Research Center. My research focuses on the search for a second genesis of life in the Solar System, using terrestrial analog environments to assess the potential habitability of other planetary bodies, and developing strategies for life detection based on first-principles in biology and biochemistry. Currently, I conduct field investigations in the most extreme deserts on Earth; I provide scientific advice for the maturation of instruments for space exploration; and I help develop mission concepts to search for evidence of life on Mars, Europa and Enceladus.

Select Publications

Wilhelm et al. (2018) Constraints on the Metabolic Activity of Microorganisms in Atacama Surface Soils Inferred from Refractory Biomarkers: Implications for Martian Habitability and Biomarker Detection. Astrobiology, 19 (7). DOI: 10.1089/ast.2017.1705

Guzman et al.  (2018). Identification of chlorobenzene in the Viking gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer data sets: Reanalysis of Viking mission data consistent with aromatic organic compounds on Mars. JGR Planets. DOI: 10.1029/2018JE005544

Schulze-Makuch et al. (2018). Transitory microbial habitat in the hyperarid Atacama Desert. PNAS. Doi:10.1073/pnas.1714341115

Steel, E., Davila, A.F., McKay, C. (2017) Abiotic and biotic formation of amino acids in the Enceladus ocean. Astrobiology. Doi: 10.1089/ast.2017.1673

Davila A.F. and Schulze-Makuch, D. (2016) The last possible outposts for life on Mars. Astrobiology. 16, 159–68.

Goordial J. et al. (2015) Nearing the cold-arid limits of microbial life in permafrost of an upper dry valley, Antarctica. ISME Journal. DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2015.239

Davila A.F. et al. (2015) In situ metabolism in halite endolithic microbial communities of the hyperarid Atacama Desert. Frontiers in Microbiology. 6:1035.

Artieda, O. et al. (2015). Surface evolution of salt-encrusted playas under extreme and continued dryness. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. DOI:10.1002/esp.3771.

Davila, A. F. et al. (2013). Perchlorate on Mars: a chemical hazard and a resource for humans. Int. J. Astrobiol. DOI:10.1017/S1473550413000189

Davila, A. F. et al (2013). Salt deliquescence drives photosynthesis in the hyperarid Atacama Desert. Environ. Microbiol. Rep., 5(4), 583–587.

Davila, A. F. & Zamorano, P. (2013). Mitochondria and the evolutionary roots of cancer. Phys. Biol., 10(2), 26008.

Fairén, A. G. et al (2011). Cold glacial oceans would have inhibited phyllosilicate sedimentation on early Mars. Nat. Geosci., 4(10), 667–670.

Fairén, A.G. et al (2010). Noachian and more recent phyllosilicates in impact craters on Mars. PNAS 107(27), 12095–12100.

Davila, A. F. et al (2010). Hygroscopic salts and the potential for life on Mars. Astrobiology, 10(6), 617–628.

Marzo, G. A. et al (2010). Evidence for Hesperian impact-induced hydrothermalism on Mars. Icarus, 208(2), 667–683.

Fairén, A. G. et al (2009). Stability against freezing of aqueous solutions on early Mars. Nature, 459(7245), 401–404.

Davila, A. F. et al (2008). Facilitation of endolithic microbial survival in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert by mineral deliquescence. J. Geophys. Res., 113(G1), 1–9.​


  • Co-Lead of the Network for Ocean Worlds (NfoLD) RCN.
  • Member of the Ocean Worlds and Dwarf Planets panel of the 2023-2032 Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey (2020-2022)
  • HENAAC Award Scientist of the Year (2020)
  • NASA Group Achievement Award-ARADS Team(2020)
  • NASA RHG Exceptional Achievement Award (2019)
  • NASA Group Achievement Award-Icebreaker Team (2015)
  • Member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (since 2014)
  • Invited Faculty-Research Fellowship at the University of Antofagasta, Chile (2012)
  • Antarctic Service Medal (2009)
  • NASA Post-Doctoral fellowship (2006-2009)
  • Student Fellowship at the Dept. for Marine Geosciences, University of Vigo, Spain (2000)