Life, electrons, and aliens | Dr. Luke McKay | TEDxBozeman



Dr. Luke McKay breaks down life on Earth and the probability of extraterrestrial life. Who knew mac n’ cheese and extremophiles could teach us so much about the electrical circuit that makes life possible? Dr. McKay is a microbial ecologist and astrobiologist at Montana State University who investigates extremophiles, or, life that thrives in harsh environments. Born and raised in Alabama where he received a BS in molecular biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Luke then went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete a MS and PhD in hydrothermal vent microbiology. During his career he has traveled twice to an ocean depth of 1.25 miles in the Alvin submersible, participated in the first investigatory cruise of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and lived at Palmer Station, Antarctica to study ecosystem changes due to rapid warming. Luke’s current work focuses on thermally active environments in Yellowstone – both surface hot springs and hydrothermal vents beneath the lake – where he links together chemical measurements with DNA analyses to understand how microorganisms live happily under such conditions. By studying the limits of life, Luke attempts to address fundamental questions such as how we got here and where else, beyond Earth, life might exist. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at