Astrobiologist in JHU APL’s Space Exploration Sector

Applied Physics Laboratory
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland (US)
APL offers competitive salaries to match competitors in the private sector
May 13, 2021
Jun 12, 2021
Planetary Sciences
Career Level
Mid Career
Education Level
Job Type
Relocation Cost

Are you motivated to understand the origin of life, the habitability of other planets, and whether we are alone?

Are you passionate about making groundbreaking contributions to the national and international scientific exploration of space?

Do you have strong leadership skills?

If so, we are looking for someone like you to join our growing program in astrobiology research.

Job Summary:

As the exploration of planetary bodies in our solar system advances in the coming decades, astrobiology investigations have the potential to make paradigm-shifting discoveries. As a world leader in space science and in the design, development, and operation of NASA-funded missions and instruments that will explore potentially habitable worlds, APL is poised to make major contributions to this growing field. APL is committed to expand its astrobiology research program, and as such we are seeking a scientist with an established record in the field of astrobiology to join us.

We seek a scientist who will pursue groundbreaking advancements in developing and establishing future astrobiological initiatives, lead proposals for astrobiology research and technology development, and demonstrate scientific leadership through scholarly publications and conference presentations. We are particularly interested in individuals who conduct ongoing research into the location, detection and/or characterization of biosignatures in potentially habitable environments applicable to Ocean Worlds.

If selected, you will join APL’s Planetary Exploration Group, a roughly 50-person, intellectually diverse group that is part of the >1300 scientists, engineers, and staff that make up APL's Space Exploration Sector. Opportunities exist to build on APL’s existing leadership roles in exploration of Ocean Worlds including on the Europa Clipper and Dragonfly missions and several initiatives in different stages of conceptual development. The group runs a half-dozen research laboratories, and space is available for a new laboratory to conduct astrobiology research at the discretion of the selected candidate. The opportunity also exists for collaboration with APL’s Applied Biological Sciences Group, which maintains laboratory and informatics resources focused on microbiological and aerosol sciences, autonomous bio-sensing, and environmental metagenomics sequencing. In addition to BSL-2 laboratories, the applied biology group maintains a large BSL-3 laboratory that employs robust sensing, decontamination, and aerosol modeling protocols, useful for astrobiology instrument applications such as planetary protection and minimizing false positives in biosensors.


  • Conduct astrobiology research related to potentially habitable environments in our solar system that is applicable to Ocean Worlds (30-60%)
  • Conduct research and development into cutting-edge astrobiology measurement techniques, e.g., to detect extraterrestrial life with atypical biochemistry or in challenging environments within the solar system, or to prepare samples for life detection in extraterrestrial environments (10-20%)
  • Lead or make major contributions to astrobiology proposal and technology development efforts at APL (20-40%)

You will meet our minimum qualifications if you have:

  • A Ph.D. in a field related to astrobiology.
  • Made a significant impact on astrobiology demonstrated by a strong record of publications.
  • Research funding as a principal investigator or co-investigator on one or more ongoing astrobiology-related projects
  • Experience with field studies of analog environments, laboratory experiments or analysis of samples, and/or development of instrumentation
  • Excellent organizational and (written and spoken) communication skills

You will go above and beyond our minimum qualifications if you have:

  • Experience with spacecraft missions
  • Experience with astrobiology research relevant to Ocean Worlds
  • >5 years of post-Ph.D research experience
  • Proven scientific leadership in the astrobiology community
  • Are able to obtain a Secret level security clearance. Eligibility requirements include U.S. citizenship.

About APL's Civil Space Mission Area

Over the past 25 years, APL has designed, built, and operated major missions including NEAR (1996), TIMED (2001), MESSENGER (2004), STEREO (2006), New Horizons (2006), Van Allen Probes (2012), Parker Solar Probe (2018), and others. APL has also developed a large suite of scientific instruments for these missions, and for other NASA programs through partnerships. APL is currently developing the DART mission that will deflect an asteroid, the Europa Clipper mission that will investigate habitability on Jupiter's moon (joint w/ JPL), the IMAP mission that will map the heliosphere, and the Dragonfly mission that will fly on Saturn's moon Titan to investigate its prebiotic chemistry. For these future programs, APL is also leading the development of multiple science instruments.

Why work at APL?

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) brings world-class expertise to our nation’s most critical defense, security, space and science challenges. With a wide selection of challenging, impactful work and a robust education assistance program, APL promotes a culture of life-long learning. Our employees enjoy generous benefits and healthy work/life balance. APL’s campus is located in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. Learn more about our career opportunities at

APL is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer. You will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, disability status, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.