people would see this awe and say they saw also what he saw

-gwendolyn brooks




Who is Luke?


Hello! My name is Luke and I am a scientist on planet Earth who is utterly captivated by the overwhelming diversity of life. Most of these life forms are invisible to the naked eye but they are ubiquitous and incredibly abundant—in fact, there are more of these organisms living associated with your body than your body’s own human cells. But they don’t stop there. Microbes live in the dirt under our feet, the ocean, hot springs, Antarctic ice, deep sea hydrothermal vents, insect guts, and even deep mud layers beneath the ocean. They are crucial to our understanding of global chemistry like the oxygenation of our atmosphere and the regulation of many greenhouse gases. They have the power to elucidate the evolutionary history of life on Earth and some of them may even provide clues as to where else life may exist in our solar system and beyond! Not to mention, there is likely a wealth of untapped medical and industrial applications that these microbes have to offer. My research is dedicated to understanding these incredible tiny creatures and, in particular, how they inform our understanding of the origin of life on Earth and the extent of life beyond Earth.

I am an Assistant Research Professor at Montana State University in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences and the Center for Biofilm Engineering. I serve as the STEM Program Director for the Gentlemen’s Retreat, which teaches inner city youth the art of being gentlemen through emotional and conversational intelligence. I am also a review editor for Extreme Microbiology, a part of the scientific journal Frontiers in Microbiology. I live in Bozeman, Montana with my wife, Greta, our four chickens (Baby Spice, Brian, Marianne, and Greendle), and our cat, Orbit.


“MSU team discovers organism in Yellowstone hot spring potentially linked to earliest life on Earth” -MSU news (link to story)

Drs. Luke McKay and Bill Inskeep process samples from Washburn Hot Springs.

Drs. Luke McKay and Bill Inskeep process samples from Washburn Hot Springs.

“Methane and sulfur metabolisms collide in the Korarchaeota” -Nature microbiology community blog (LINK to post)


how can we look for alien life by studying the earth? watch this episode to find out…


Gardiner High School, Yellowstone Science Presentation, November 21, 2019
American Geophysical Union annual meeting, San Fransisco, CA, December 9-13, 2019

MSU Honors College, Undergraduate Research Symposium, October 5, 2019
Carnegie Geophysical Laboratory, Seminar Series, Washington DC, September 30, 2019
MSU Environmental Sciences 110, Guest Lecture, September 16, 2019
Speaker in “The New Frontier for Everyone”, C2, Montreal, Canada, May 22-24, 2019
Yellowstone Explores Science (YES!), April 2019
Research Seminar, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC, Canada, April 29, 2019
American Geophysical Union annual meeting, Washington DC, December 2018
Pajama party screening of Alien and discussion of alien life, Montana State University: Leadership Institute, October 30, 2018
National Academy of Sciences Documentary Filmmakers Retreat, Woods Hole MA, October 26-28, 2018
Montana State University screening/panel of The Most Unknown, Bozeman MT, October 19, 2018
HATCH, Big Sky MT, October 3-7, 2018
ISME17 Conference, Leipzig, Germany, August 12 - 17, 2018
The Most Unknown Netflix release party & panel discussion, Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, August 10, 2018
Bozeman showing of The Most Unknown, The Rialto, June 1, 2018
"Life, Electrons, and Aliens" at TEDxBozeman, Montana, April 28, 2018
Red carpet premier and Q&A for The Most Unknown, NYC, April 18, 2018

tedxbozeman 2018: Life, electrons, and aliens

Have you ever wondered what life actually is or whether it could exist on other planets? Luke redefines life by breaking it down into the fundamental concept of moving electrons around and then considers where else life might exist besides Earth. Watch the talk below!

the most unknown

Luke is one of nine scientists featured in VICE Motherboard's first full-length documentary, The Most Unknown, which is on Netflix here . It covers topics such as life on other planets, consciousness, time (what is it?!), and dark matter. Watch the trailer below!