Roadmaps from the Present to the Future



Moving from Disciplines to Common Questions

Building a new multi-disciplinary institute with ambitious scientific goals presents exciting challenges and necessitates careful planning and consideration of a “road map” for the future.


The current version of ELSI’s road map shows an initial migration from established scientific disciplines toward the first goal of addressing common scientific questions together as a collaboration. Although much progress has already been made in understanding Earth and life from a specialized approach, the questions that ELSI seeks to address are too big and complex to be encapsulated by any particular field. Thus an important first step forward as an institute is to refocus on key problems where a variety of disciplinary perspectives may combine to produce new ideas and approaches that will help illuminate ELSI’s future road map. This makes ELSI unique and very different from a traditional Japanese academic unit consisting of independent and unrelated research teams. ELSI members perceive their roles at the institute in the context of the common scientific questions they are addressing with their colleagues, rather than simply as practitioners of a particular tool or methodology, or as members of a single research group or lab controlled by a single Professor. Funding from WPI and support from Tokyo Tech give ELSI’s management the flexibility it needs to hire research staff in a way that helps to achieve our goal of scientific fusion.


An Integrated Approach Using Top-down (from the Present to the Past) and Bottom-up (from the Past to the Present) Methods

Nine Disciplines

There are many established disciplinary research approaches that are presently contributing to ELSI’s science, some of which are listed below. These fields use many approaches, such as “bottom-up” which uses theoretical models to predict the course of events in the early solar system, or “top-down” which seeks to determine early conditions by looking at fossils and other relics that can be observed today.


  1. Deep Earth Science
    Determination of the chemical composition and evolution of Earth’s interior using theory, observations, and experiments.
  2. Planet Formation Theory
    Theoretical and observational work on the formation of planets from a primitive disk of gas and dust.
  3. Geology Geochemistry
    Examination of the historical rock and chemical isotopic records to illuminate the early Earth environment.
  4. Extraterrestrial Observation
    Astronomical observation and characterization of exoplanetary systems.
  5. Geomicrobiology Physiology
    Understanding life on early Earth by studying present life in extreme environments.
  6. Genome Environment Database
    Collect and analyze genome and environment data to understand early life.
  7. Prebiotic Chemistry
    Formation of complex biomolecules from abiotic chemical processes.
  8. Synthetic Biology
    Experiments and models of life-like molecular systems.
  9. Complex Systems
    Science Modeling of complex phenomena such as life from a general theoretical systems approach.


Seven Research Topics

  1. Earth’s Building Blocks
    What is the composition of the initial Earth, and how has it been distributed over time?
  2. Early Crust, Mantle, and Core
    What was the state of the early core, mantle, and crust?
    What was the state of the early core, mantle, and crust?
  3. Initial Ocean and Atmosphere
    What was the state of the early ocean and atmosphere, and how did it evolve with time?
  4. Co-evolution of Earth-life System
    How did Earth and life influence one another over time?
  5. Geological Supply of Prebiotic Molecules
    What were the key geological environments for minerals and abiotic organic matter to combine into complex biological molecules?
  6. Proto-metabolism System
    What are the essential components of the earliest metabolic processes on Earth?
  7. Proto-cell System
    How did early cellular life come to exist, and what are its essential components?