Duane Moser (l) and South African
ventilation engineer Cosolomon Kuhmalo (Photo by Brett
Two miles underground. For his first assignment as
a postdoctoral scholar at Princeton, Duane Moser stepped
into a steel cage and dropped two miles into the earth.
Heat, darkness and air pressure closed in
as he plummeted downward at 40 miles per hour, shoulder to
shoulder with about 30 miners. Their destination was the
bottom of Shaft No. 5 in East Driefontein Gold Mine, 60
miles southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Moser's quarry was not gold but microbes
living deep in the earth, life forms so ancient and so alien
from anything seen on the surface that they could lead to a
new understanding of the origin of life on earth as well as
life on other planets.
It was the start of what would become a
routine of working in the lab of Associate Professor of
Geosciences Tullis Onstott, who has been studying
microorganisms from deep beneath the earth since 1994.
Onstott recently received a $3 million grant from the
National Science Foundation and NASA to establish a
permanent research station in a South African gold mine.
Already Onstott's research has shown
signs of microorganisms that eke out an existence in minute
cracks within the rock, sealed from oxygen and scorched by
radiation and extreme heat.
Department of Geosciences