October 2007

The next application deadline for NAI applicants to the NASA Postdoctoral Program is Nov. 1. For more information, please see [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Penn State will continue its summer program for undergraduates with renewed funding (three years) from the National Science Foundation. Each summer the program supports 10 students from universities and colleges across the U.S., between their freshman and senior years, to conduct research with astrobiologists for 10 weeks at Penn State (early June to early August). Activities also include a behind-the-scenes field trip to NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, as well as weekly seminars, discussion groups and a research symposium. The program covers the cost of travel, room, and meals and provides a $4,000 stipend. For further information see

Source: NAI Newsletter

The organizers of the 2008 Astrobiology Science Conference are pleased to announce that the deadline for abstract submission has been extended!

The revised deadline for submission of abstracts is December 3, 2007.

Abstracts should be submitted via the conference website (, where a complete list of topical sessions can also be found.

Questions regarding submission of abstracts can be addressed to

Even though the NAI doesn't operate on an academic year calendar, I can't help but feel that we are starting a "new year" this month. It's not just that I became Director on Sept. 17, 2006, exactly a year ago, but also that one of NAI's most important milestones, presenting our programs to the National Research Council (NRC) committee reviewing the Institute, was completed just before the Labor Day weekend.

A new paper in Nature from NAI's NASA Ames Research Center Team describes a new technique they've developed through which completely new enzymes can be evolved in the laboratory. The process does not require prior understanding of how the enzymes will work, or the use of product formation as a selection criterion.

Source: NAI Newsletter

NAI Postdoctoral Fellow Elise Furlan from NAI's UCLA Team is co-author on a new paper in Nature reporting the development of a protoplanetary disk. Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, observations were made of water vapor within the emerging system's natal cloud. Lead author Dan Watson of the University of Rochester said, "For the first time, we are seeing water being delivered to the region where planets will most likely form."

Source: NAI Newsletter

Biomarkers in rocks prior to the rise in Earth's atmospheric oxygen 2.5 billion years ago show cyanobacteria released oxygen at the same levels as today. What was happening to that oxygen? A new paper in Nature from NAI's Penn State Team proposes that the rise of atmospheric oxygen occurred because the predominant sink for oxygen--enhanced submarine volcanism--was abruptly and permanently diminished during the Archaean-Proterozoic transition by a shift from predominantly submarine volcanism to a mix of subaerial and submarine volcanism.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Norbert Schorghofer of NAI's University of Hawai'i Team has a new paper in Nature describing a climate model he developed which accounts for the advance and retreat of the subsurface martian ice layers. The model reveals forty major ice ages over the past five million years, and explains the present distribution of subsurface ice on Mars. His findings outline expectations of ice stratigraphy at the NASA Mars Phoenix Mission's landing site.

Source: NAI Newsletter