UNM associate professor shares expertise in ‘Alien Worlds’ series

Entertainment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A University of New Mexico biologist and visiting associate professor has an out-of-world job. She’s featured in a Netflix science fact and fiction series that takes a look at possible alien life on other planets.


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Dr. Diana Northrup studies everything from white-nose syndrome in bats to life in dangerous caves. “I find it just fascinating to go in a cave where there are all these deposits that can run from PH0 to PH8,” she said. Now, she’s taking her expertise to Netflix. She’s featured in its December 2020 docufiction series, ‘Alien Worlds.’ The show looks at laws of life on earth to see how alien life can thrive on other planets.

Dr. Northup is in episode two, leading the film crew into the Cueva De Villa Luz cave in Mexico, which is full of dangerous gases and acidity levels. It’s a place where signs of life like snottites, thrive. “They hang from the ceilings or the walls and they look like just a strand of snot from someone’s nose. And they drip sulfuric acid which is PH0 to one. More acidic than your car’s battery,” said Dr. Northup.

Fish and bats also live in the cave despite the harsh conditions. It gives scientists clues on how life can exist in similar conditions elsewhere. “It’s not that we’re going to find fish on Mars. It’s more we’re going to find some of these deposits that signify that life may have been there or maybe even hopefully still is there,” said Dr. Northup.

It’s a possibility she’s excited to share with viewers. “A chance to go back to this cave is just amazing but the chance to share that and maybe excite some teenage to think, oh, maybe microbiology would be a cool thing to study, or geology or microbial ecology… there’s all kinds of cool research to be done,” Dr. Northup said. “I hope people that watch this episode will be excited about caves, the potential that caves represent to tell us more about how the earth’s processes work, the potential is for being able to know where to look for life on other planets.”

This isn’t Dr. Norhtup’s first time sharing her expertise in front of the camera. She’s also been featured in work for National Geographic and BBC.

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