Zachary Adam CV, updated 04/06/2021 (PDF version: ZAdam_CV_04062021)

Zachary Adam
Department of Geoscience
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Research Scientist III
Weeks Hall, Room 363
Madison, WI


My overall research goals are to elucidate two of the most significant ‘jumps’ in complexity known to have occurred on our planet: the origins of life, and the origins of the earliest eukaryotes evolved. I recently discovered two diverse assemblages of protistan-grade microfossils in the 1.45 billion-year-old sedimentary deposits of the Belt Supergroup in Montana. In addition to continuing to uncover new microfossils in these and other Precambrian deposits, I am also interested in exploring new geochemical routes to prebiotic macromolecule synthesis. Our radiolysis experiment team recently discovered geochemically plausible conditions in which nearly all of the precursors required to assemble ribonucleotides through the Powner-Sutherland pathway can be synthesized with minimal human intervention. My current work focuses on investigating whether prebiotic monomer synthesis was itself a self-organizing chemical system, perhaps from the very first stages of the origins of life. If so, this carries profound implications for constraining where, and how frequently, life originates in our universe.

Ph.D.  2014, Montana State University, Earth Sciences
Dissertation title: Microfossil paleontology and biostratigraphy of the early Mesoproterozoic Belt Supergroup, Montana

M.Sc.  2006, University of Washington, Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering
Thesis title: Actinides and the Origins of Life

B.Sc.   2004, University of Washington, Earth and Space Sciences
B.Sc.   2004, University of Washington, Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering

2021    Research Scientist III, UW – Madison
2021    Co-Director and Co-Founder, Radiolysis Experimentation for Prebiotic Origins (REPO) Center
2018    Associate Staff Scientist, University of Arizona, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
2017    Simons Origins of Life Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, group of Dr. Andrew Knoll
2014    Agouron Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, group of Dr. Andrew Knoll
2010    Director, Blue Marble Space, Blue Marble Space Institute of Science
2008    Representative, NASA Advisory Council, Subcommittee on Planetary Protection
2008    Associate Member, NASA/FAA/DOD Launch Vehicle Range Safety Group
2007    Aerospace Engineer, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation; licensing officer for SpaceX (Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon) and Boeing (Zenit-3SL) missions

2022    SciAlog Fellow and Grant Awardee, Biosignatures of Life
2021    John Templeton Foundation, Research Grant, Science of Purpose, Collaborator
2021    John Templeton Foundation, Ideas Challenge Award Recipient
2017    Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Bok Center
2017    Arizona State University Origins Project Postdoctoral Lectureship
2017    Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life Postdoctoral Fellowship
2016    ELSI Origins Network Origins of Life Seed Grant Award, Co-I
2016    NASA Astronaut Corps Class of 2017 Selection Finalist
2014    Agouron Institute Geobiology Postdoctoral Fellowship
2013    NASA Astrobiology Institute, Early Career Collaboration Award
2012    Tobacco Root Geological Society, Harrison Scholarship
2012    Belt Association Research Grant Award
2012    Donald L. Smith Memorial Fund for Field Geology Research
2011    National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Recipient
2011    NASA Astrobiology Institute Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploratory Research Award
2011    Teachers Without Borders, International Fellowship Award
2011    PARSA Community Foundation Award for Geoscience Education
2010    National Science Foundation, IGERT Program Recipient, Montana State University
2010    Geological Society of America, Reviewer of the year for GSA Today
2009    American Chemical Society, Reviewer of the year for Chemical Reviews



2020    “Complex Network Topology of a Prebiotic Organosynthetic System”, Gordon Research Conference on the Origins of Life, Galveston, TX.

2019    “Radiolysis Generates a Complex Chemical Network with Life-like Organizational Attributes”, Harvard Origins Initiative Special Seminar and Annual Faculty Dinner, Cambridge, MA.

2019    “Network Topology of Radiolytic Chemical Systems that Generate Ribonucleotide Precursors”, NASA Astrobiology Science Conference, Seattle, WA.

2017    “Production and Concentration of Water-Alternative Solvents on the Prebiotic Earth”, NASA Astrobiology Conference, Phoenix, AZ.

2017    “New Views of the Complex Eukaryote Tappania Plana from the 1.4Ga Belt Supergroup”, NASA Astrobiology Conference, Phoenix, AZ.

2017    “A Theoretical Architecture for Exploring Organic Automata and the Origins of Life”, Origins Project, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

2016    “A Laurentian record of the earliest fossil eukaryotes: A search image for the Mars2020 mission”, NASA JPL Planetary Science Seminar, Pasadena, CA.

2016    “Evidence of sexual conjugation and crown-group status in early Proterozoic eukaryotes, GSA National Meeting, Boulder, CO.

2016    “A Laurentian record of the earliest fossil eukaryotes”, Northeast Geobiology Symposium,  Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

2015    “Microfossils from the Belt Supergroup, Montana: A new window into early eukaryote evolution”, NASA Astrobiology Science Conference, Chicago, IL, June.

2015    “Coupled thermodynamic feedback and organic synthesis in natural nuclear reactors”, Earth-Life Sciences Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, May.

2015    “Natural nuclear reactors as a case study for coupled thermodynamic feedback and organic synthesis in geological systems”, Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, April.

2014    “Microfossils from the Greyson Formation, Lower Belt Supergroup: Support for Early Mesoproterozoic Biozonation”, GSA Rocky Mountain/Cordilleran Joint Meeting, Montana.

2014    “Astrobiology and the search for complex life”, Georgia Tech Planetary Seminar Series, Atlanta, GA, February.

2013    “Microfossils and the Mesoproterozoic Rise of Complexity”, University of Washington Astrobiology Colloquium, Seattle, WA, November.

2013    “Two paths, one destination: Integrating fossil data into genetic sequence models to investigate the origin of eukaryotes”, Matematiksel Evrim Symposium, Sirince, Turkey, June.

2013    “A case for 1.4 billion year old dimorphic fungi: New views on the early evolution of eukaryotes”, World Summit on Evolution III, San Cristobal, Galapagos, June.


University of Arizona

MCB195- Microbiology of Star Trek, Guest lecturer, 2020, 2021.
MCB495- History of Life on Earth, Guest lecturer, Spring 2021.
ASTR202- Life in the Universe, Guest lecturer, Fall 2018.

Harvard University

EPS/OEB 56- Geobiology and the History of Life, Teaching Fellow, Spring 2017.
Historical Geobiology- Mass Extinctions, Guest lecturer, Fall 2014.

GSA Field Trip Guide

GSA Trip 408: Mesoproterozoic tectonics and sedimentation along the southern margin of the Belt Basin, May 2014.

Georgia Tech

Introduction to Evolution, Guest lecturer, Spring and Fall 2013.

Aga Khan Schools

Earthquake science and preparedness training for school teachers and administrators, Shughnan, Tajikistan and Badakhshan, Afghanistan, 2011; Gujarat, India 2012.


2017    Energy, Entropy and Complexity on the Prebiotic Earth, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
2016   PBS television series Science for the Public, interview guest, Belmont, MA
2016    Public Night of Science, Brcko, Bosnia
2015    Chief Joseph Middle School Science Fair Mentor, Bozeman, MT.
2014    The Scientists Are In, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC.
2013    Astrobiology Mentor for At-Risk Teens, Pittsburg Community School, Pittsburg, CA.
2013    Astrobiology and Paleobiology Guest Lecturer, Hellgate High School, Missoula, MT.
2013    Co-founder, SAGANet
2012    Student Earthquake Education, Aga Khan Schools, Gujarat, India.
2011    Student Earthquake Education, Public and Aga Khan Schools, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Khorog, Tajikistan, and Shughnan, Afghanistan.

You can contact me at zachary (dot) adam (at) wisc (dot) edu with any further questions or comments.