Mars One Candidate Debates Soft Matter Issues at Lindau MeetingAgriculture, Engineering & Science

Dr Adriana Marais.Dr Adriana Marais.

Post-doctoral researcher in UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology, Dr Adriana Marais, has made waves in her field not only in her quest to explore the quantum origins of life, but also due to her selection as one of the 100 finalist candidates for the planned Mars One journey in 2026. 

Marais was recently selected to travel to the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting in Germany which is dedicated to the field of Physics. Following her engagements at Lindau, Marais was featured in Nature’s Outlook publication as well as a recently-released video covering a discussion at a Science Breakfast for 100 of those who attended the Lindau meeting, aptly hosted by Mars Incorporated, on the topic: “Why Does Soft Matter Matter”? 

The discussion panel included Nobel Laureate, Steven Chu, and senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Antonio Redondo. The discussion of soft matter (biological materials that are deformed or altered by thermal fluctuations) included the potential of soft matter physics applications to play a role in solving issues facing the world today, including sustainability challenges. Panellists highlighted new emerging interdisciplinary research that is yielding results that could hugely benefit society. 

Marais spoke specifically about the soft matter making up living organisms. Her research has been characterised by exploration of the origins of life from the inanimate matter of which it is constituted, which is one of science’s biggest open problems currently. Her PhD, titled: “Quantum Effects in Photosynthesis, explored the role of quantum mechanisms in photosynthesis”. Lately, she is investigating whether methods from quantum biology could contribute to our understanding of the origins of life. 

Marais detailed the strides quantum biology research is making in the development of highly efficient, biologically-inspired, artificial photosynthetic systems that will contribute significantly to both renewable energy and food security. 

In her journey closer to being one of the final candidates hoping to make the trip to the Red Planet, Marais touched on the importance of appreciating and effectively utilising resources on earth. Poor resource utilisation has, Marais said, contributed to global challenges, and life on Mars would be characterised by a deep appreciation of life and resources taken for granted here.

Christine Cuénod