Archives

October 2009


Astrobiology Teachers Academy

NAI's New York Center for Astrobiology held its first Teachers Academy at RPI on July 13-16, 2009. Nine high school science teachers from four local school districts collaborated with six NAI scientists to learn about topics in astrobiology. The participants represent disciplines across the sciences: biology, chemistry, earth science, forensic science, and physics. The goal of the Academy was to develop a learning module infused with astrobiology and aligned with New York State standards and NASA Astrobiology Science Goals.

The teachers used science lectures, existing astrobiology curriculum materials, and consistent interaction with the scientists to develop their learning modules, which ranged in topic from the physiochemical limits to sustainable life, to colors of photosynthetic organisms on exoplanets, to nucleosynthesis of biologically-relevant elements. The teachers are implementing their modules in their classrooms this school year, and the Academy will be featured at the annual regional meeting of the Science Teachers Association of New York State in March, 2010. [Source: NASA Astrobiology]

This summer, sixteen teachers from around the world convened with NAI's team at Montana State University for a weeklong class called "Examining Life in Extreme Environments: Insights into Early Earth and Beyond." Students in the course gained an understanding of the relation of extreme environments to early earth, learned about the latest research conducted in these areas, and worked on how to teach and discuss these topics within their own classrooms.

Astrobiologists searching for life in the universe, believe that Darwin's vision of natural selection promises to profoundly alter and expand the notion of life and its origins.

John Baross, an oceanographer and astrobiologist from the University of Washington, Seattle, will explore this topic on Monday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. PST at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View, Calif. Baross will reflect on Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and possible evolutionary adaptations on other planetary bodies, in a lecture titled "Evolution of Astrobiology: Searching for Life in the Universe - A New Darwinian Voyage." Admission is free.
Sponsors of the lecture include the NASA Astrobiology Institute at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Corporation, Sunnyvale. Calif. This is the last in a series of Ames-hosted public lectures centered on the concept of evolution. In honor of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species," Ames is looking at the evolution of science and technology, particularly as it contributes to the NASA mission.

For more information, visit: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/

Exploring Ice in the Solar System is a series of lessons for K-5 classrooms developed by the NAI Carnegie Institution of Science Team and the NASA MESSENGER mission. Twelve lessons span topics from ice in everyday life, to exploring ice in the polar regions of Earth, to icy places on Mars and Europa, to life in ice. Each standards-aligned lesson consists of substantive background information, inquiry-based activities, teaching tips, resources, a photo gallery, and strategies for differentiated instruction and evaluation. [Source: NASA Astrobiology]

Applications for the US to Australia Fellowship Program close on October 31st. The program offers fellowships of up to AU$25,000 to American researchers or students wishing to undertake advanced research or study in Australia. Through these Educational Fellowships, the Association encourages intellectual collaboration and innovation, building on the strong social and economic partnerships between Australia and the United States.

Fields of study/research supported by the fellowships:

* Medicine
* Life sciences (particularly in oceanography/marine sciences and stem cell research)
* Science
* Engineering
* Mining

General Requirements:

* Applicant's research or study must be at a graduate level or above.
* Proof of acceptance into an Australian educational institution is required.
* Applicant must be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States.
* The Fellowships are intended to support part of the costs of one year of research/study in Australia (applicants must submit a complete budget).
* Applicants should devote full time to their research or study.

Deadline: 31 October 2009

Further Information: http://www.americanaustralian.org/usa_to_aust_apps/

Please send inquiries & applications to: ustoa@aaanyc.org

In July a group of early-career astrobiologists (graduate students and postdocs) spent two days engaged in intensive brainstorming at the first ever Early-Career Astrobiology Research Focus Group (RFG). The goal of the RFG was to foster interdisciplinary collaborative work in a simulated proposal submission process. At the end of two days of grant writing, peer-reviewing, oral presentations and group discussions, the participants voted on the best proposals.

The RFG was an outstanding success, exceeding all expectations. The 30 participants covered the full range of specialties relevant to astrobiology, and represented 7 different countries across North and South America, Europe and Australia. Not only was the RFG successful in its original goal of strengthening interdisciplinary and international links between early-career astrobiologists (9 out of 10 participants thought that having participated in the RFG would definitely help them to work more effectively in an interdisciplinary way in the future) but as a result of the dedication and commitment shown by the participants, several highly original ideas for future research were generated. Over ninety per cent of the participants thought that the ideas that were produced would definitely (50%) or possibly (42%) affect the direction of their future research, and two-thirds of participants wanted to continue collaboration on their ideas.

The next application deadline for the NASA Postdoctoral Program is November 1, 2009. The program provides opportunities for Ph.D. scientists and engineers to perform research on problems largely of their own choosing, yet compatible with the research interests of NASA and the member teams of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The NAI currently supports the research of 10 such postdoctoral fellows in NAI labs. For more information see http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The NAI extends its congratulations to Beth Shapiro, member of NAI's Pennsylvania State University team. Beth, Shaffer Career Development Assistant Professor of Biology at Penn State, has been selected as a MacArthur Fellow by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. According to the foundation, the prestigious award is given to talented individuals, in a variety of fields, who have shown exceptional creativity, originality, dedication to their creative pursuits, and potential to make important contributions in the future. For more information: http://live.psu.edu/story/41679 [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Astrobiology Science News 21 October 2009

Jack W. Szostak, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is among a group of three researchers who have been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Szostak, who shares this year's prestigious scientific award with Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, and Carol W. Greider of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is also a principal investigator with NASA's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The award was presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on October 5th, and was given to the group "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." According to the Royal Swedish Academy, this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to these three scientists for solving a major problem in biology: how chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. For more information: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2009/ [Source: NAI Newsletter]

This new book, edited by Constance M. Bertka is now available. From the publisher: Where did we come from? Are we alone? Where are we going? These are the questions that define the field of astrobiology. New discoveries about life on Earth, the increasing numbers of extrasolar planets being identified, and the technologies being developed to locate and characterize Earth-like planets around other stars are continually challenging our views of nature and our connection to the rest of the universe. In this book, philosophers, historians, ethicists, and theologians provide the perspectives of their fields on the research and discoveries of astrobiology. A valuable resource for graduate students and researchers, the book provides an introduction to astrobiology, and explores subjects such as the implications of current origin of life research, the possible discovery of extraterrestrial microbial life, and the possibility of altering the environment of Mars.

* An introduction to astrobiology exploring the origin of life, the extent of life, and the possibility of life on Mars * Provides philosophical, historical, ethical and theological perspectives on astrobiology * No prior knowledge of the subject is needed as each chapter has been written to be understood by readers new to the field

For more information: http://www.cup.es/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521863636 [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Podcast on the NAI and Astrobiology

Tune into the latest from Omega Tau, a wide-reaching podcast series from Stuttgart, Germany, for an interview with NAI's Director Carl Pilcher as he talks about NAI, astrobiology, and the search for life elsewhere in the universe. For more information: http://omegataupodcast.net/2009/09/18-astrobiology-at-the-nasa-astrobiology-institute/ [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The "Martha T. Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica" is a US $100,000 unrestricted award presented to an individual in the fields of Antarctic science or policy that has demonstrated potential for sustained and significant contributions that will enhance the understanding and/or preservation of Antarctica. The Prize is inspired by Martha T. Muse's passion for Antarctica and is intended to be a legacy of the International Polar Year 2007-2008. The prize-winner can be from any country and work in any field of Antarctic science or policy. The goal is to provide recognition of the important work being done by the individual and to call attention to the significance of understanding Antarctica in a time of change. A web site with further details, including the process of nomination and selection of the Prize recipients is available at www.museprize.org .

The Prize is awarded by the Tinker Foundation (http://foundationcenter.org/grantmaker/tinker/) and administered by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). (http://www.scar.org/)

Note the deadline for nominations is the 15th of October. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Astrobiology Science News 6 October 2009

Jack W. Szostak, a principal investigator with NASA's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Insitute, is among a group of three researchers who have been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The award was presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on October 5th, and was given to the group "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." According to the Royal Swedish Academy, this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists for solving a major problem in biology: how chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. [source: NAI]