The Josep Comas i Sola International Astrobiology Summer School, held annually in Santander, Spain, has become a tradition in the astrobiology community, as this summer marked its seventh year. The week-long program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows provides lectures from international experts, round-table discussions, student projects, night-sky observations, and a half-day field trip to a nearby site of astrobiological interest.
This summer's program, held from 22-26 June, was devoted to an understanding of the characteristics and diversity of organisms that inhabit Earth's extreme environments and the implications for the habitability of environments beyond Earth. About 40 students participated, most from the US and Europe, but including one each from Canada and Mexico. The Directors of both NAI and Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB) organize the school, together with former NAI Director Bruce Runnegar at UCLA. This year's lecturers included noted oceanographer and astrobiologist John Baross of the University of Washington; Michael Madigan of Southern Illinois University, principal author of Brock Biology of Microorganisms,and one of the world's leading experts on anoxygenic photosynthesis; Ricardo Amils of CAB, chemist and microbiologist specializing in the ecology of highly acidic environments such as Spain's Rio Tinto, an analogue to Mars; Felipe Gomez of CAB, whose research focuses on life in permafrost; and Petra Rettberg, radiation biologist from the German Aerospace Center.
This year's field trips included examination of fossil-rich cretaceous sedimentary formations on the Magdalena peninsula in Santander and a hike deep into the carbonate-dominated El Soplao cave in the Sierra de Arnero Mountains, known for the abundance, quality, and preservation of its mineral formations.
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