Malcolm Walter

Professor, Founding Director, Australian Centre for Astrobiology
University of New South Wales, Australia
Phone: +61 2 9385 3761

Malcolm Walter is a Professor of Astrobiology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He is Director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology based at that university, and Director of M. R. Walter Pty Ltd. He has worked for 35 years on the geological evidence of early life on Earth, including the earliest convincing evidence of life. Since 1989 he has been funded by NASA in their “exobiology” and “astrobiology” programs, focusing on microbial life in high temperature ecosystems, and the search for life on Mars. He is a member of the Executive Council of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. During 1999 his book “The Search for Life on Mars” was published by Allen & Unwin. He has published more than 100 articles and several other books. He also works as an oil exploration consultant and a consultant to museums, and was curator of a special Centenary of Federation exhibition on space exploration (for the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, Museum Victoria, and elsewhere). In 2004 Malcolm was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

Research Interests

I started my research career with work on an archaeocyathid bioherm in the Cambrian of the Adelaide Rift Complex in South Australia. Then came four years of research on Proterozoic stromatolite biostratigraphy and palaeobiology, for my PhD. During that time and intermittently ever since I worked on the oldest evidence for metazoan life. Research on banded iron formations has been another intermittent occupation. An invitation from NASA in 1987 led to an interest in life on Mars, a pursuit that now preoccupies me. I have studied the oldest convincing evidence of life on Earth, in the Archaean of Western Australia, a topic to which I have recently returned.

Two continuing themes to my work have been an interest in the coevolution of microbial life and its environment (such issues as the oxygenation of the atmosphere and hydrosphere), and simultaneous work in modern and ancient environments. For many years I was director of an interdisciplinary laboratory that studied microbially-dominated environments in Shark Bay and elsewhere, and I have worked extensively in the hydrothermal environments of Yellowstone National Park and to a lesser extent New Zealand.

I have not abandoned my stratigraphic studies, and for the decade of the 1990’s with my colleague John Veevers and former students Clive Calver, Kath Grey, Kaye Cotter, Andrew Hill and Paul Gorjan I worked to improve our knowledge of Neoproterozoic stratigraphy, particularly in Australia. I was Vice Chairman with Andrew Knoll of the Subcommission on the Terminal Proterozoic (International Commission on Stratigraphy) which has defined for the first time in more than a century a new geological period, the Ediacaran.

I consider that scientists must interpret their work for the public and to that end I have done numerous interviews for radio, television and the print media in Australia, Europe and North America. My work with museums and my book about the search for life on Mars are also contributions to public education.