The astrobiology community is deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Sandra Pizzarello, Emeritus Research Professor at Arizona State University, who passed away on October 24, 2021. Throughout her brilliant career, Dr. Pizzarello was involved in many projects supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program, including acting as a project collaborator and co-investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). Dr. Pizzarello also served as the president of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life from 2014 to 2017.

Dr. Pizzarello was a renowned authority on organic material found in meteorites, and her contributions to knowledge concerning prebiotic chemistry and the origin of life have helped shape our understanding of life’s potential in the Universe. Among her many scientific achievements was the discovery of enantiomeric excesses in extraterrestrial amino acids extracted from carbonaceous chondrite meteorites with John Cronin (1937-2010) (1). Dr. Pizzarello studied a wide range of compounds in meteorites and also carried out valuable experiments on the origin of homochirality in biochemistry on Earth and performed studies on asymmetric catalysis of biochemical reactions using non-racemic mixtures of amino acids. She was recognized for being thorough in her chemical analyses and her research is held in high esteem.

Known for her careful chemistry as much as for her distinctive temperament, Dr. Sandra Pizzarello inspired and guided many young scientists to pursue careers in astrobiology and meteorite organic chemistry. Through both her research and her instruction, Dr. Pizzarello has had a powerful impact on our field, and she will be greatly missed.

On the Origins of Biological Homochirality

(1) Cronin, J.R, Pizzarello, S. (1997) Enantiomeric Excesses in Meteoritic Amino Acids. Science 275(5302) DOI: 10.1126/science.275.5302.951