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Kapili fathoms out of this world deep-sea research

While Bennett Kapilli will study microorganisms in the deep sea, he studies interesting creatures above the ground, pictured here in Hawaii.

After a poster presentation at the Cornell Undergraduate Research Board in April, where he had designed a rock-sample mission to Mars that returns to Earth, senior Bennett Kapili aspires for a career – on another planet.

Humans have explored Jupiter, Mars and the other planets by way of spacecraft, rovers and robotic geologists, but future NASA missions may dive below the surface using submarines on other planets’ moons – such as Jupiter’s Europa, which may teem with alien sea life – within our solar system.

Kapili wants a front-row seat. “The deep sea is an extreme environment – with its intense pressures, cold temperatures, limited nutrients and organic matter, so I want to know how life can survive,” said Kapili ’16, who spent his junior year summer at NASA Ames Research Center near Silicon Valley working with photosynthetic microorganisms and his senior year summer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He will enter a doctoral program at Stanford this summer to study microbial ecology and the biogeochemistry of the deep sea.

As a kid, Kapili’s father would make up fantastic bedtime stories – tales of alien worlds, peculiar creatures and flying saucers. “He would tell me how, one day, he’d love to look through a telescope and see an alien on another planet looking through a telescope back at him,” Kapili said. “I hope during my career I can tell my dad that, yes, there is life elsewhere in our universe and if you look hard enough, you may just find an alien looking back at you.”

- Blaine Friedlander