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RESEARCH ON MARS – Papers by Gilbert V. Levin, Ph.D.


In 1952, Dr. Gilbert V. Levin invented a rapid, highly sensitive method to detect microbial contamination of water and food. In 1958, he obtained a NASA contract to develop the method to seek extraterrestrial life. The method was selected in 1969 for use on NASA’s 1976 Viking Mission to Mars. Originally named “Gulliver,” for the Lilliputians (microorganisms) it was seeking, it was renamed the “Labeled Release (LR)” experiment by NASA to indicate the technology used – the release of radioactive gas from radio-labeled compounds in the event they were metabolized by microorganisms in the Martian soil. Simply put, the LR squirted a drop of carefully designed radioactive food onto a tiny cup of Martian soil and monitored the air above the soil to detect radioactive gas that any microorganisms present might breathe out. Levin and his co-workers, notably Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then spent the next decade developing the experiment and instrument, and in analyzing the results obtained from its successful operation on Mars. At both landing sites, some 4,000 miles apart, the LR returned evidence of living microorganisms. Initially discounted by NASA and most space scientists, the results of this milestone project have, nonetheless, been causing excitement and controversy ever since. In 1997, after 21 years of study of the Mars LR results, of new information scientists obtained about environmental conditions on Mars, and of the extreme environments in which life was found on Earth, Dr. Levin published his conclusion that the LR had, indeed, discovered living microorganisms on the Red Planet.

Levin first presented his conclusion in an invited talk at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) on July 30, 1997, in San Diego. On July 20, 1998, he presented another paper with new findings supporting that conclusion. Many attempts have been made since then by other authors to explain the Mars LR results as having been caused by chemical or physical reactions between the LR nutrients and the soil. No one, however, has duplicated the full experimental results the LR obtained on Mars. In recent years, there have been many important converts to the life theory, possibly the fore-runner of a major paradigm shift in humanity’s continual search for its place in the universe.

Below are his publications related to Mars. They are presented in chronological order, from the early up to the latest scientific findings by him and others related to this intriguing issue, the resolution of which, as termed by NASA, would be “the greatest experiment in the history of science.”

GILBERT LEVIN, Ph.D.


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