February 2010

In 2010, AbGradCon, the foremost astrobiology meeting for early-career researchers, will be held in Europe for the first time in its history (June 14-18). Graduate students and early-career postdocs from all over the world will come together in Taellberg, Sweeden to present their research in a comfortable environment, to learn of the latest developments in astrobiology, to network and to forge new collaborations. The meeting will comprise oral and poster presentations, half-day workshops and a one-day field trip to geologically instructive sites in the astrobiologically interesting Siljan impact crater. Attendees are encouraged from the very wide range of subjects pertinent to astrobiology. Financial assistance will be available to invited attendees. Abstract submission deadline: February 28, 2010. For more information:

GeoBiology 2010, co-sponsored by the NAI, is an intensive course on how interactions between microorganisms and the environment have shaped the evolution of the Earth, and how microbe-mineral interactions leave imprints in the rock record. Participants get hands-on experience in research methods in geobiology and work in research groups solving current questions relevant to the field. The course will be held June 20-July 20, 2010. Applications are due March 5, 2010.

Themes include:
Microbial life in Yellowstone hot springs,
Mineral precipitation in Yellowstone,
Ancient stromatolites, and
Microbial dynamics in biofilms, emphasis on carbon and nitrogen.

This class will involve a field trip to Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas. Lab work will be conducted at the Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO) and the USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island, CA. The course also includes public mini-symposia. The 2010 GeoBiology course is open to students and researchers at any level, but preference is given to graduate students in their early years. For more information and online applications, please see or contact GeoBiology Course Coordinator Ann Close at or (213) 740-6705.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Date/Time: Monday, March 1, 2010 11:00AM Pacific
Speaker: Tori Hoehler, NASA Ames Research Center
Title: "Energy Flow and Life: A Thermodynamic-Kinetic View of Biology in its Relationship with the Environment"

Abstract: Life's unique and universal relationship with energy flow offers an added constraint in conceptualizing and quantifying habitability and biosignatures, the central concepts in the search for life beyond Earth. The statement, "life requires energy", is widely accepted and often invoked in astrobiology, but is of little practical use given that energy - in one form or another, and at one level or another - is present everywhere in the universe. However, qualification and constraint are introduced by considering the unique attributes of life's dependence and effect on energy flow, at physical, chemical, and biological levels of specificity. Life's relationship with energy has both thermodynamic and kinetic dimensions: how much and how fast are both important, where energy demand, availability, and transduction are concerned. When considered in concert, these two dimensions yield significant resolving power in quantifying life's need for energy (a constraint on habitability) and life's imprint on energy flow (a form of biosignature). They do so at a fundamental point of interface between life and its host environment, and in a fashion that need not be specific to Earth-type life. This approach will be described at a conceptual level, and then applied to the specific example of habitability of serpentinizing systems for methanogenic organisms.

For more information and participation instructions:

Source: NAI Newsletter

The origin of the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has been an enduring mystery for decades. Scientists from NAI's Arizona State University team think they may finally have an answer. They tested the recently popular hypothesis that methane in Titan's atmosphere originated in hydrothermal systems deep within Titan. Their work was made possible by chemical data that were acquired when NASA's Cassini spacecraft passed through a plume of water and other compounds from Enceladus.

Using a geochemical model, the team deduced that Titan's atmospheric methane has much less deuterium than would be expected if the methane were produced in a hydrothermal system. The implication is that Titan's methane is a primordial chemical species that was accreted by the moon during its formation.

While Titan's methane probably came from accreted ices, the analysis of the ASU team suggests that the other major constituent of Titan's atmosphere, molecular nitrogen, could have come from within Titan's core. This work advances the understanding of the origin and evolution of the bioessential elements carbon and nitrogen on icy worlds in planetary systems. More information can be found in the December 2009 issue of Icarus.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Location: Palacio de Magdalena, Santander, Cantabria, Spain
Dates: June 21-25, 2010
Deadline: Closing date for NAI scholarship applications - March 31, 2010.

Overview: A week of lectures from international experts, plus round-table discussions, student projects, night-sky observations, and a field trip to a nearby site of astrobiological interest. On-site accommodation and all meals are provided at the Santander campus of the Spanish National University, UIMP. Scholarships covering travel costs, school fees, accommodation and meals are provided by NAI for approximately 10 American students. Additional opportunities are available for students of other nationalities. For more information:

Source: NAI newsletter

Location: The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Dates: June 6th to August 14th, 2010

Program details: There will be independent research under the guidance of one or more astrobiologists, a field trip to NASA and astrobiology-related sites around Washington, D.C., weekly seminars, laboratory tours, stargazing opportunities, discussion group, and a research symposium.

Expenses: Travel and living expenses will be covered and participants will receive, in addition, a stipend of $4000 for the summer.

Eligibility: U.S. citizens or permanent residents between their sophomore and senior years at a college or university other than Penn State (exceptional applicants between their freshman and sophomore years will be considered). Women and minorities are encouraged to apply. Applicants should have a research interest in astrobiology and be contemplating a career in science. College graduates are not eligible.

Participants: Up to ten students will be selected from among the applicants. Application deadline: February 19, 2010 For more information:

Leroy Nelson and Scott Sandford take questions about both science and culture; The inter-cultural team facilitates educators learning the classroom activities.

On January 28-29, 2010, the "NASA and the Navajo Nation" project team hosted a large-scale workshop for educators across the Navajo Nation. Over 100 teachers participated, despite the worst snow storm in 25 years, some traveling hours through severe conditions. On the first day, the teachers heard background lectures from both a cultural expert and an astrobiologist, Scott Sandford from NASA Ames Research Center. On the second day, the team trained teachers on classroom use of the six activities in the So' Baa Hane' booklet, inter-cultural materials developed by the project in 2006.

30 January - 4 February 2011 at the Ventura Beach Marriott Hotel, Ventura, CA

Microbial Ecology in the Early Fossil Record of Earth and Modern Analogues

Convenors: Nora Noffke & John Stolz

This GRC will discuss the latest research highlights in geobiology and will invite exciting case studies that demonstrate the potential of this interdisciplinary research field. The aim is to involve geoscientists as well as bioscientists into this discussion and to initiate collaboration between the disciplines. Geobiology involves the study of both modern and ancient environments and life therein. It is not only relevant to the appearance and evolution of life and habitats on Earth, but has implications for the detection of life on other planetary systems. The main themes of this conference are: i) Biofilms and microbial mats; ii) Biologically controlled sedimentary processes in modern environments; iii) Products of biologically controlled sedimentary processes in fossil environments: biogenic sedimentary structures; (iv) The geobiological approach for the search for life on other planets; and (v) Perspectives and outlook.

For more information:

Source: NAI newsletter

Session description:

The biogeochemical cycle of silicon, the second most abundant element of the earth's crust and a key nutrient element for numerous organisms, extends from the continents, via estuaries, to the oceans. In all environmental reservoirs (geo)physical, chemical, and biological processes affect the cycling of silicon. We invite research conducted on all aspects of the silicon cycle, at all spatial and temporal scales, using experimental, observational and modeling techniques. We particularly encourage contributions that explore the interconnections between the geological and biological roles of silicon.

For more information and abstract submission:

Source: NAI newsletter

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is offering funding for students and postdocs to attend the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) 2010 in League City, Texas, on April 26-29, 2010. Information about AbSciCon is available online at Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs are eligible to apply for funding.

The deadline for applications is Friday, March 5. Award decisions will be made and applicants notified by Friday, March 19.

More information and an application form is posted on the NAI website at

Please direct any comments or questions to Wendy Dolci:

Pave New Worlds, Are We Alone podcast, SETI Institute

The extra-solar planet count is more than 400 and rising. Before long we may find an Earth-like planet around another star. If we do, and can visit, what next? Stake out our claim on an alien world or tread lightly and preserve it? We'll look at what our record on Earth says about our planet stewardship. Also, whether a massive technological fix can get us out of our climate mess. Plus, what we can learn about extreme climate from our neighbors in the solar system, Venus and Mars.

- Ken Caldeira - Climate scientist from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University
- Keith Cowing - Biologist, and editor of
- Kathryn Denning - Anthropologist at York University in Canada
- Gary Davis - Director of the Joint Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii
- David Grinspoon - Curator of the Denver Museum of Science and Nature