Clara Sousa-Silva is a quantum astrochemist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian who studied the potential of life on Venus. In 2020, she helped detect phosphine in the planet’s atmosphere, suggesting that life may exist in the clouds of Venus.
On Wednesday, NASA announced plans for two new missions to Venus: DAVINCI + and VERITAS. The instruments will explore the atmosphere and surface of Venus and will be NASA’s first exploration of the world in over 30 years.
“It’s a very exciting time to work on Venus,” Sousa-Silva says.
Sousa-Silva studies how molecules interact with light so that they can be detected on distant worlds. She spends most of her time studying the molecules life can produce so that one day she can detect an alien biosphere. Its preferred molecular biosignature is phosphine: a terrifying gas associated with a generally unpleasant life. When not deciphering the atmospheres of exoplanets, Clara works hard to persuade the next generation of scientists to become an active part of the astronomical community.
Clara holds a PhD in Quantum Chemistry from University College London and an MA in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Among her many accomplishments, Clara is the recipient of the prestigious Pegasi 51 b scholarship from the Heising Simons Foundation. The scholarship supports the growing field of planetary astronomy and outstanding postdoctoral scientists who make unique contributions to the field of astronomy. Prior to joining the Center for Astrophysics, Clara was a research scientist at MIT.