Solar System Exploration Division

Heather Valeah Graham


Heather Valeah Graham's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.5490
Org Code: 691
Mail Code 691
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

Heather Graham is an organic geochemist with a profound curiosity about the natural world, the history of life, the vast connections between biotic and abiotic systems, and what evolution can tell us about our future. Their research focuses on the fundamental scientific development of tools and techniques that can help us identify “agnostic biosignatures” – evidence of living systems that may not share common biochemistry with life on Earth. Life detection methods that do not presuppose a common heritage with life on Earth are becoming more important as we travel farther out in the solar system and may even help us understand novel life deep in the earth where potential ecosystems have been out of communication with the surface of the planet for billions of years. With a diverse background in biology, analytical chemistry, paleontology, and statistical modeling, Graham combines their expertise in the expression and preservation of chemical biosignatures with an understanding of the constraints of space flight instrumentation.


Ph.D, Geosciences & Biogeochemistry, The Pennsylvania State University 2014

Thesis Title: Molecular and isotopic indicators of canopy closure in ancient forests and the effects of environmental gradients on leaf alkane expression

Graduate Advisor: Kate Freeman, The Pennsylvania State University
Co-advisors: Lee Kump, The Pennsylvania State University & Scott Wing, Smithsonian Institution

A.B., cum laude, Chemistry, Occidental College 2007

Professional Service

Co-lead for the Network for Life Detection, an astrobiology Research Coordination Network


Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Fellowship 2019 – 2024
NASA Postdoctoral Program Research Fellowship 2013 – 2016
MSL Curiosity Rover Sample Analysis at Mars Research Fellowship 2013 – 2014



2024. "Enantioselective three-dimensional high-performance liquid chromatographic determination of amino acids in the Hayabusa2 returned samples from the asteroid Ryugu." Journal of Chromatography Open 5 100134 [10.1016/j.jcoa.2024.100134] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in samples of Ryugu formed in the interstellar medium." Science 382 (6677): 1411-1416 [10.1126/science.adg6304] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Investigating the impact of x‐ray computed tomography imaging on soluble organic matter in the Murchison meteorite: Implications for Bennu sample analyses." Meteoritics and Planetary Science [10.1111/maps.14111] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Soluble organic matter Molecular atlas of Ryugu reveals cold hydrothermalism on C-type asteroid parent body." Nature Communications 14 (1): 6525 [Full Text] [10.1038/s41467-023-42075-y] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Chemical evolution of primordial salts and organic sulfur molecules in the asteroid 162173 Ryugu." Nature Communications 14 (1): 5284 [10.1038/s41467-023-40871-0] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "The spatial distribution of soluble organic matter and their relationship to minerals in the asteroid (162173) Ryugu." Earth, Planets and Space 75 (1): 73 [10.1186/s40623-023-01792-w] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Soluble organic molecules in samples of the carbonaceous asteroid (162173) Ryugu." Science 379 (6634): eabn9033 [Full Text] [10.1126/science.abn9033] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Deuterium Isotope Fractionation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Meteorites as an Indicator of Interstellar/Protosolar Processing History." Life 12 (9): 1368 [10.3390/life12091368] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Diagnostic biosignature transformation under simulated martian radiation in organic-rich sedimentary rocks." Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences 9 [10.3389/fspas.2022.919828] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Organic carbon concentrations in 3.5-billion-year-old lacustrine mudstones of Mars." Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 119 (27): e2201139119 [Full Text] [10.1073/pnas.2201139119] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "COSPAR Sample Safety Assessment Framework (SSAF)." Astrobiology 22 (S1): S-186-S-216 [Full Text] [10.1089/ast.2022.0017] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Science Autonomy for Ocean Worlds Astrobiology: A Perspective." Astrobiology [10.1089/ast.2021.0062] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Planetary Mass Spectrometry for Agnostic Life Detection in the Solar System." Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences 8 (173): [Full Text] [10.3389/fspas.2021.755100] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "The Grayness of the Origin of Life." Life 11 (6): 498 [10.3390/life11060498] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Laboratory Studies in Support of the Exploration of Ocean Worlds and NASA Missions." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.935e24ec] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Benzoic Acid as the Preferred Precursor for the Chlorobenzene Detected on Mars: Insights from the Unique Cumberland Analog Investigation." The Planetary Science Journal 1 (2): 41 [10.3847/psj/aba690] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Abundant extraterrestrial amino acids in the primitive CM carbonaceous chondrite Asuka 12236." Meteoritics & Planetary Science 55 (9): 1979–2006 [Full Text] [10.1111/maps.13560] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Lipid Biomarkers in Ephemeral Acid Salt Lake Mudflat/Sandflat Sediments: Implications for Mars." Astrobiology 20 (2): 167-178 [10.1089/ast.2017.1812] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Canopy structure in Late Cretaceous and Paleocene forests as reconstructed from carbon isotope analyses of fossil leaves." Geology 47 (10): 977-981 [10.1130/g46152.1] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "OSIRIS-REx Contamination Control Strategy and Implementation." Space Science Reviews 214 (1): 19 [Full Text] [10.1007/s11214-017-0439-4] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Fingerprinting Non-Terran Biosignatures." Astrobiology 18 (7): 915-922 [10.1089/ast.2017.1712] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "Biosignature Preservation and Detection in Mars Analog Environments." Astrobiology 17 (4): 363-400 [10.1089/ast.2016.1627] [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "Correlating the ancient Maya and modern European calendars with high-precision AMS 14C dating." Nature Scientific Reports 3 1597-1601 [10.1038/srep01597] [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "Isotopic characteristics of canopies in simulated leaf assemblages. ." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 144 82-95 [10.1016/j.gca.2014.08.032] [Journal Article/Letter]

2013. "Packing for another planet: Learning scientific methodology through alternative reality gaming." Proceedings of the 9th Games, Learning and Society Conference [Proceedings]

2011. "Production of n-alkyl lipids in living plants and implications for the geologic past. ." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 75 (23): 7472-7485 [10.1016/j.gca.2011.09.028] [Journal Article/Letter]

2009. "The environmental water of the middle Eocene Arctic: Evidence from δD, δ18O and δ13C within specific compounds." Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 271 (1-2): 96-103 [10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.09.016] [Journal Article/Letter]


2022. "Lunar Samples are Time Capsules of the Sun." Heliophysics Decadal Survey White Paper [] [Other]

2021. "Towards a more universal life detection strategy." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [Full Text] [10.3847/25c2cfeb.53a24171] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Deep Trek: Mission Concepts for Exploring Subsurface Habitability & Life on Mars — A Window into Subsurface Life in the Solar System." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.5f50cebc] [Journal Article/Letter]