Clara Sousa-Silva is a quantum astrochemist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian who has studied the potential for life on Venus. In 2020, she helped detect phosphine in the planet's atmosphere, suggesting that life may exist in Venus' clouds.
On Wednesday, NASA announced plans for two new missions to Venus: DAVINCI+ and VERITAS. The instruments will explore Venus' atmosphere and surface and will be the first NASA exploration of the world in over 30 years.
"It’s a very exciting time to work on Venus," Sousa-Silva says.
Sousa-Silva investigates how molecules interact with light so that they can be detected on faraway worlds. She spends most of her time studying molecules that life can produce so that, one day, she can detect an alien biosphere. Her favorite molecular biosignature is phosphine: a terrifying gas associated with mostly unpleasant life. When she is not deciphering exoplanet atmospheres, Clara works hard to persuade the next generation of scientists to become an active part of the astronomical community.
Clara holds a doctoral degree in quantum chemistry from the University College London, and a masters degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Among her many achievements, Clara is the recipient of the prestigious 51 b Pegasi Fellowship from the Heising Simons Foundation. The fellowship supports the growing field of planetary astronomy and exceptional postdoctoral scientists who make unique contributions to the field of astronomy. Prior to joining the Center for Astrophysics, Clara served as a research scientist at MIT.