Graduate Students

  1. Graduate Students
  2. Past Graduate Students

Graduate Students

Greg DiSanza

  • Department of Biology, Supervisor: Jonathan Stone
disanzga [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

I am a proud member of the McMaster Collaborative Graduate Program in Astrobiology. My undergraduate education focused on biology and biochemistry, with additional interest in astronomy and physics. Discovering the Origins Institute provided an invaluable opportunity to study a synthesis of the topics that were of greatest interest to me. The Origins Institute also presented something unique within the realm of academia: true collaboration between many researchers among different topics in pursuit of the answers to fundamental questions in science such as: where do we come from? How did we get here?


My graduate studies focused on a blend of astrophysics and cellular/evolutionary biology, with a thesis on computational analyses of the genetic code. By ranking the Standard Genetic Code (SGC) against alternative Hypothetical genetic codes (HGCs), we can deduce whether there are any alternative codes with superior organization and error minimization. A greater understanding of this type of organization within the genetic code can aid researchers in devising models for how amino acids and precursor molecules originally interacted.


My future interests include pursuing a PhD and continuing to perform research within the realm of Astrobiology. The Origins Institute has been vital to my academic career thus far, and has brought me a great measure of happiness and satisfaction. I would highly recommend the Origins Institute and its Collaborative Graduate Program in Astrobiology to any future students.

Adrian Forsythe

  • Department of Biology, Supervisor: JP Xu
forsytae [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

Jakub Kosakowski

  • Department of Biology, Supervisor: Paul Higgs
kosakoj [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

Sarah McKenzie-Picot

  • Department of Physics and Astronomy, Supervisor: Ralph Pudritz
mckens2 [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

Ben Pearce

  • Department of Physics and Astronomy, Supervisor: Ralph Pudritz
pearcbe [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

Evidence is growing for the hypothesis that life emerged through purely chemical means, however many questions still need to be answered. The first life molecules were likely RNA polymers due to their ability to store and replicate genetic information, and catalyze their own replication. My supervisor (Ralph Pudritz) and I are currently interested in how the building blocks of these first life molecules (i.e. the nucleotides) formed on the early Earth. One possibility is that nucleobases—the characteristic molecules in nucleotides—were synthesized within asteroids and comets, and delivered to the early Early by the fragments of these bodies. These nucleobases could then react with other molecules in the primordial soup to form the first nucleotides; which could link up and eventually form the first life molecules. The main evidence for an early-Earth delivery of nucleobases is in the meteoritic record (See Figure 1). Adenine, Guanine and Uracil have been measured in many types of carbonaceous meteorites, and are strongly thought to be extraterrestrial in origin (Callahan et al. 2011). To understand the formation of such molecules within the parent bodies of these meteorites, we run thermodynamic simulations of the reactions that have been demonstrated to form nucleobases in the lab.


Pearce & Pudritz 2015

Pearce & Pudritz 2015


Margot Smith

  • Department of Geography & Earth Sciences, Supervisor: Greg Slater
smithmrw [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

Andrew Tupper

  • Department of Physics and Astronomy, Supervisor: Paul Higgs
tuppea2 [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

Tarushika Vasant

  • Department of Biology, Supervisor: Jonathan Stone
vasant [ AT ] mcmaster [ DOT ] ca

Past Graduate Students

Mark Belan

  • Geography & Earth Sciences

Alyssa Cobb

  • Physics & Astronomy
  • CATP Graduate Fellow, graduated 2013

Rachel Gysbers

  • Biochemistry

Danielle Simkus

  • Geography & Earth Sciences
  • CATP Graduate Fellow - graduated 2013

Seyed Zamani

  • Physics & Astronomy