Habitability is the capacity of an environment to host the complex chemistry and energetics that life needs. At planetary scale, interactions between solid, liquid and gaseous components at the surface, together with incoming and outbound radiation generate diverse environmental niches that can encourage the emergence and evolution of life forms. Discerning such interactions is the goal of observational astronomy and exploration missions. Earth-based laboratory experimentation also offers a flexible capability to validate information from such missions, and to better understand how our own planet has transitioned from an abiotic world to one in which an evolving biosphere has changed the coupling of matter and energy at its surface.
Replicating complex planetary environments in simple bench-scale experiments requires interdisciplinary and stepwise approaches with many challenges and pitfalls. I will present my experience in designing mesocosm-scale environmental systems for multi-annual experimentation with various terrestrial, aquatic, atmospheric and biological scenarios. I will then discuss steps taken to further develop such systems for terrestrial exoplanet research. Such experimental approaches are critical stepping stones for better constraining exoplanetary processes, and can aid in developing and refining methods for geochemical biosignatures detection using remote observation and planetary exploration.