January 2011

Annual Meeting of the AOGS (Asia-Oceania Geosciences Society) Taipei, Taiwan August 8-12, 2011

This session invites solicited, contributed, and poster presentations addressing (1) conditions on the early Earth that may have been necessary for the origin of life (2) subsequent events and conditions that may have contributed to the evolution of organisms and the development of Earth's climate (3) biological and geochemical characterization of extreme environments (4) habitability of extraterrestrial atmospheres, surfaces and interiors (5) methods or technological approaches for detecting biosignatures.

Contact: Dr. Louise Prockter (Johns Hopkins University , United States) [Source: Planetary Science Institute]

From the Swiss Society for Astrophysics and Astronomy 41st Saas-Fee Advanced Course "From Planets to Life" 3-9 April 2011, Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland

This astrobiology course consists of 28 lectures organized in three parts as follow:

- Astrophysical conditions for development of life Prof. Jonathan Lunine (University of Arizona)
- Earth geology and climatology history Prof. James Kasting (Pennsylvania State University)
- Origin and critical steps of life development on Earth

Prof. John Baross (University of Washington) In addition to the formal course, the setting of this event provides ample time for informal discussions during the meals and other social events. are approaching our maximum hosting capacity, however, we can still accommodate for about a dozen additional participants. The regular registration deadline is JANUARY 28th, 2011. After this date the registration fee will raise from CHF450.- to CHF500.-. For more information please visit:

We look forward to seeing you soon, Pierre Dubath, for the organizing committee

[Source: Planetary Science Institute]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) has released NASA Research Announcement (NRA) NNJ11ZSA001N, entitled "Ground-Based Studies in Space Radiobiology." This NRA solicits ground-based proposals for the Space Radiation Program Element (SRPE) component of the Human Research Program (HRP). Proposals are solicited by the SRPE in the area of Space Radiation Biology utilizing beams of high energy heavy ions simulating space radiation at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL), at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York.

The full text of the solicitation is available on the NASA Research Opportunities homepage at under menu listing "Open Solicitations." Potential applicants are urged to access this site well in advance of the proposal due date to familiarize themselves with its structure and to register in the system. Proposals solicited through this NRA will use a two-step proposal process. Only Step-1 proposers determined to be relevant with respect to the Research Emphases outlined in Section (I)(F) of this NRA will be invited to submit full Step-2 proposals. Step-2 proposals must be compliant with respect to all sections of this NRA or they will be declined without review. Proposals must be submitted electronically.

Step-1 proposals are due March 2, 2011. Step-2 proposals are due May 11, 2011.

This email is being sent on behalf of and is intended as an information announcement to researchers associated with the NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) Human Research Program (HRP).

Thank you for your continued interest in NASA. Please reference the above solicitation for contact information.

An affiliation between the University of Southern California and the SETI Institute will create formal ties between one of America's premier research universities and one of the most innovative and highly regarded scientific research institutions.

Announced today by USC and the SETI Institute, the affiliation joins a leading private university and a unique research institute pursuing the study of the living universe. This affiliation significantly heightens USC's profile in astronomy and astrobiology and establishes a strong research and education presence in Silicon Valley for the university. The affiliation is effective immediately.

NOTE: This email is for information gathering purposes. Willingness to participate in the SOI review does not guarantee a proposal will be assigned. The number of available qualified reviewers may exceed the number of reviewers needed.

NASA Research and Education Support Services (NRESS) is seeking persons to evaluate proposals submitted in response to the NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) titled, "2011 Summer of Innovation Project" announced by NASA Glenn Research Center Office of Educational Programs on January 19, 2011. Specifically, NASA is interested in reviewers with expertise and experience in one or more of the following areas: education reform and policy, evidence-based summer learning programs, innovative and scalable program design, partnerships, grant management and/or federal education proposal review. NASA is seeking reviewers with various backgrounds and professional affiliation including Pre-K - 12 teachers and principals, college and university educators, researchers and evaluators, social entrepreneurs, strategy consultants, grant makers and managers, and others with education expertise.

Application Deadline: February 15, 2011

The American Philosophical Society and the NASA Astrobiology Institute have partnered to promote the continued exploration of the world around us through a program of research grants in support of astrobiological field studies undertaken by graduate students, postdoctoral students, and junior scientists and scholars.

The Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology supports field studies in areas of research related to astrobiology by graduate students, postdocs, and early-career scientists and scholars who are affiliated with U.S. institutions. Grants may be used for travel and related expenses, including field equipment, up to $5,000. Applications will be reviewed by a committee that includes members of the NAI, the APS, and the wider science community, as needed. Recipients will be designated as Lewis and Clark Field Scholars in Astrobiology.

Additional information, including the application forms and instructions, is available at the APS's Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology website:

Abstract Submission Deadline: February 28, 2011
Participant Notification: April 4th, 2011

AbGradCon 2011 will be held at the Montana State University campus (Bozeman, MT) on June 4th-8th. Montana State University provides a unique setting for astrobiology graduate students and early career researchers to come together to share their research, collaborate, and network. Since it is organized and attended by only graduate students and post docs, AbGradCon is an ideal venue for the next generation of career astrobiologists to form bonds, share ideas, and discuss the issues that will shape the future of the field. Full funding is available for US applicants. Limited funding may be available for international students. For more information, please see Please send questions and concerns to

Dates: June 27 - July 1, 2011

Application Deadline: March 14, 2011

The ninth annual Summer School in Astrobiology, sponsored by the NAI and the Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB), will be held in Santander on Spain's Cantabrian coast. The topic of the School this year is "Mars Exploration: Unveiling a Habitable Planet."

The summer school includes a week of lectures presented by internationally distinguished researchers, round-table discussions, astronomical observations, and a half-day field trip. Students completing the school receive a UIMP Diploma in Astrobiology. On-site accommodations and meals are provided at the summer campus of UIMP, Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo, Santander. Lecturers will include David Des Marais of NASA Ames Research Center and Bethany Ehlmann of the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, in Orsay, France.

Scholarships covering travel costs, school fees, accommodation and meals are provided by the NAI for approximately 10 students affiliated with US. institutions. Additional opportunities are available for students from other countries. For more information see

Application Deadline: February 15, 2011

Roger Summons, PI of the MIT NAI team, is planning a field trip to Shark Bay Australia from June ~11 - 19. Participants include Pieter Visscher (UConn), Joan Bernhard and Ginny Edgcomb (WHOI) and students from MIT and the University of NSW. They will be exploring the microbial diversity of subtidal stromatolites. The team could accommodate another one or two students wishing to participate in related research activities. They must have their own funding support, and should supply a short description of the research they plan to conduct to

James L. Green
Director, Planetary Science Division
NASA Headquarters

In this calendar year the Planetary Science Division (PSD) will be launching the Juno, GRAIL, and MSL missions. These missions are our top priority for the Division and are at their funding peaks. MAVEN and LADEE are in development. In addition, we will have a comet encounter in February and two orbit insertions (MESSENGER around Mercury and Dawn around Vesta) that are just some of the exciting events from our 16 operating missions. This is truly a fabulous time for planetary science.

I am sure you are also aware of the current budget situation for NASA. We are under a continuing resolution or CR until March 4th and the new Congress has clearly stated their desire to reduce Federal spending. What you may not realize is how that status affects our daily business as we at Headquarters work hard to execute the planetary program with an uncertain budget. A CR means that NASA is receiving incremental funding at the FY10 level and not at the President's proposed FY11 level. This is a difference of about 10%. In addition, there is much discussion going on that additional reductions may occur for those agencies, like NASA, that are in the "discretionary" category. The President has already taken steps to freeze Civil Servant salaries for the next two years.

In order to maintain our fiscal responsibilities this situation demands that the Planetary Science Division Program Officers not over commit our R&A funds too early in the year. Therefore we will under-select in each of our R&A calls and put many more on notice that they are in the "selectable" range until it is clear what our final budget is and we can meet our obligations. As a reminder, a Principal Investigator who receives a letter that states his or her proposal is in the selectable range could be funded when NASA identifies the funds, which in this case, must wait until a final budget for NASA has been determined. We will also continue to use the technique of "active grants management" that we used last fiscal year for both new and existing awards which will enable PSD to keep the amount of unobligated funding as low as possible as we enter FY12. I will work hard to minimize a reduction in our R&A budget but it is unrealistic to think it will escape untouched based on our current situation and budget climate.

I will be providing a much more detailed status of things at the upcoming meeting of the Planetary Science Subcommittee to be held at NASA Headquarters on January 26 & 27 and at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at NASA Night on March 9th. Hope to see you all there to answer any of your questions or concerns.

The First Undergraduate Planetary Science Research Conference will be held on Sunday, March 6, 2011 from 9:00 am to 5:00pm, in association with the 2011 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), The Woodlands, TX.

The Conference includes:

* Panels on "How to Choose the Grad School Right for You," "Alternative Careers in Science," and "Women in Planetary Science;"
* Poster sessions where students will present their posters to other students and to the scientific community;
* "Meeting Mentors" who will pair students with a scientist for part of the LPSC meeting, so students can learn how to engage at a scientific conference;
* Opportunities to meet other undergraduate researchers, graduate students, and scientists.

Undergraduate students currently conducting research in planetary sciences, astrobiology and lunar sciences are eligible.

To apply, please go to: Applications are due: Close of Business, February, 1, 2011

Some travel support will be available to students who qualify. Priority will be given to students of diverse backgrounds. Students are encouraged to attend LPSC and the travel support includes registration for and participation in LPSC. For additional information, please contact Dr. Emily CoBabe-Ammann at This conference, the "Year of the Solar System" Undergraduate Planetary Science Research Conference is supported by the NASA Science Mission Directorate, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, and the NASA Astrobiology Program. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Geomicrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon, collecting lake-bottom sediments in the shallow waters of Mono Lake in California. Wolfe-Simon cultured the arsenic-utilizing organisms from this hypersaline and highly alkaline environment. Credit: (c)2010 Henry Bortman

One of the basic assumptions about life on Earth may be due for a revision thanks to research supported by NASA's Astrobiology Program. Geomicrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon has discovered a bacterium in California's Mono Lake that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA. Up until now, it was believed that all life required phosphorus as a fundamental piece of the 'backbone' that holds DNA together. The discovery of an organism that thrives on otherwise poisonous arsenic broadens our thinking about the possibility of life on other planets, and begs a rewrite of biology textbooks by changing our understanding of how life is formed from its most basic elemental building blocks.

Wolfe-Simon's research is supported by NASA's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology (Exo/Evo) Program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Among the goals of these programs is determining the evolution of genes, metabolic pathways, and microbial species on Earth in order to understand the potential for life on other worlds. Wolfe-Simon's discovery represents the first time in the history of biology that an organism has been found to use a different element to build one of its most basic structures. The paper appeared in the December 2nd, 2010 issue of "Science Express" and subsequently published in the journal Science. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Researchers from the NASA Astrobiology Program have discovered amino acids in a meteorite where none were expected. "This meteorite formed when two asteroids collided," said Dr. Daniel Glavin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The shock of the collision heated it to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough that all complex organic molecules like amino acids should have been destroyed, but we found them anyway." Glavin is lead author of a paper on this discovery appearing December 13 in Meteoritics and Planetary Science. "Finding them in this type of meteorite suggests that there is more than one way to make amino acids in space, which increases the chance for finding life elsewhere in the Universe."

Applications are now being accepted for the Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering and Space Science project, also known as ACCESS. This 10-week, paid internship at NASA centers around the U.S. is designed for undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities.

Applicants should have strong backgrounds in science, a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and a desire to pursue technical careers. Students who are chosen will work with scientists and engineers in an area compatible with their skills and interests.

Applications for placement at NASA are due Feb. 11, 2011.

For more information, visit

Please e-mail any questions about this opportunity to Laureen Summers at

Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships, or SURF, project introduces undergraduate students to research under the guidance of seasoned mentors at Caltech or NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Students experience the process of research as a creative intellectual activity and gain a more realistic view of the opportunities and demands of a professional research career.

SURF is modeled on the grant-seeking process. Students collaborate with potential mentors to define and develop a project and to write research proposals. Caltech faculty or JPL staff review the proposals and recommend awards. Students work over a 10-week period in the summer, mid-June to late August. At the conclusion of the project, they submit a technical paper and give a SURF Seminar Day oral presentation.

All application materials must be received no later than Feb. 22, 2011. For more information, visit

Please e-mail any questions about this opportunity to the Caltech Student-Faculty Programs office at

A new study in a recent issue of Science from NAI's NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Team and their colleagues looks at late accretion in the formation of the Earth, Moon, and Mars. Puzzled by the presence of highly siderophile elements (HSUs) in the terrestrial, lunar, and martian mantles, they show that the bombardment by leftover planetesimal populations dominated by massive projectiles can explain these additions. Their inferred size distribution matches those derived from the inner asteroid belt, ancient martian impact basins, and planetary accretion models. The largest late terrestrial impactors, at 2500 to 3000 kilometers in diameter, potentially modified Earth's obliquity by ~10*, whereas those for the Moon, at ~250 to 300 kilometers, may have delivered water to its mantle. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The next meeting of the Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life (COEL) will be held March 2-4, 2011 at the Keck Center in Washington, D.C. COEL is the standing committee of the Space Studies Board that organizes and provides oversight of studies on research opportunities and programs on the origin and evolution of life in the universe, including NASA's astrobiology program. As usual, most of the committee's sessions are open to the community.

For more information, see or contact COEL's Senior Program Officer, David H. Smith ( [Source: NAI Newsletter]

In this new podcast produced through the NAI MIT team, journey back in time to learn about Ediacaran Fauna, a diverse group of organisms that lived in the world's oceans about 580 million years ago. We'll meet Dickinsonia rex, a sort of living bathmat without eyes or a mouth, and other strange denizens of the primordial slimebed. Paleontologists Mary Droser and Jim Gehling explain how they're working to reconstruct this ancient ecosystem by studying fossils, and shed light on the enduring evolutionary puzzle of how the first complex life forms arose. Listen to the podcast here: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Saturday February 19th, 2011 is the Deadline for collection of abstracts and travel grants applications for Origins 2011 in Montpelier, France, July 3-8, 2011. Come and be a part of this cutting edge conference as the ISSOL (International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life) and Bioastronomy communities provide oral and poster platforms of exchange with strong focus on young researchers and the global, diverse astrobiology community. For more information: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal. "The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."

Kepler's ultra-precise photometer measures the tiny decrease in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. The distance between the planet and the star is calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star.

Date/Time: Monday, February 7, 2011 11:00AM Pacific
Burckhard Seelig (University of Minnesota)

Abstract: Life on Earth today crucially depends on the workings of proteins. Current proteins are highly sophisticated polypeptides that exhibit intricate structures and facilitate a multitude of complex functions. Although the level of protein sophistication can be explained as a result of continuing Darwinian evolution from simpler predecessors, the origin of those early functional proteins is not well understood.

We are interested in studying potential scenarios of the emergence of those first primordial proteins. This presentation will describe an experimental approach to investigate the probability of finding functional proteins in mixtures of naive random peptides. Towards this goal, collections of several trillion different protein mutants are subjected to a procedure of selection and evolution in a test tube to isolate functional proteins. In one example, novel ATP binding proteins were identified that appear to be unrelated to any known ATP binding proteins. In a second study, novel enzymes were generated that can join two pieces of RNA together in a reaction for which no natural enzymes are known.

These results not only allow us to measure the occurrence of function in random protein assemblies but also provide experimental evidence for the possibility of alternative protein worlds. Extant proteins might simply represent a 'frozen accident' in the world of possible proteins. Alternative collections of proteins, even with similar functions, could originate alternative evolutionary paths.

For more information and participation instructions: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is pleased to announce selections for research awards resulting from its 2010 Director's Discretionary Fund competition. The selections cover a wide range of research topics, including perchlorate salts in Mars analogue environments on Earth, the effects of the space environment on extremophilic bacteria, the search for extrasolar planets around M-stars, the potential for prebiotic organic synthesis in frost flowers, and the microbial diversity of domestic water heaters. Approximately $940K are allocated toward these 15 awards. The median award is $44K.

Selections were based on external reviews, with selection priority given to proposals that

* integrate the research of and realize synergies among the current NAI teams;
* expand the scope of NAI research (and the NAI community) in innovative ways, accepting some risk in return for high pay-off potential;
* respond in a timely way to new scientific results or programmatic opportunities;
* develop connections between astrobiology research and other NASA science programs, particularly NASA's Earth Science Program;
* directly support flight programs, particularly through instrument development; and/or
* use funding particularly effectively, for example through leveraging or building on past investments

In addition, priority was given to supporting early career investigators.

For more information and a list of selected research projects: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

NAI has selected the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Special Programs Corporation to administer its Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) program. The goal of the NAI MIRS Program is to help train a new generation of researchers in astrobiology and to increase diversity within the astrobiology community. For the past eight years, the program has provided opportunities for faculty members and students from minority-serving institutions to partner with astrobiology investigators.

"Providing new education opportunities for minority students will both enrich lives and answer a critical need for proficiency in science and engineering," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "But just as importantly, the program is an investment to cultivate imaginative thinking about the field of astrobiology."

The UNCF Special Programs Corporation will use its extensive database of 14,000 registrants to develop an online community to provide webinars, virtual training, and videoconferences, and provide outreach and recruitment for program participants. One of the program's main objectives is to engage more faculty from under-represented schools in astrobiology research and increase the number of students pursuing careers in astrobiology.

"Our nation's underserved populations are a tremendous resource on which we must draw, not just for science, but for everything we do," said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute. "We are extremely pleased that the NAI MIRS program will continue its contribution under the leadership of such a strong and experienced partner."

For more information: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The MSL Participating Scientist Program is intended to enhance the scientific return from the MSL mission ( by augmenting the existing MSL science team to include new investigations that broaden and/or complement the funded Principal Investigator (PI)-led investigations, thus maximizing the contribution of MSL to the future exploration and scientific understanding of Mars. The second and equally important goal of this opportunity is to increase the number of scientists supporting daily mission operations.

Notices of Intent are due January 21, 2011, and proposals are due March 22, 2011.

Go to:

Select "Solicitations" then "Open Solicitations" then "NNH10ZDA001N".

Questions concerning this program may be addressed to

Dr. Michael Meyer

A new online guidebook helps people understand how astrobiology research ties to Yellowstone National Park. The guidebook, entitled "Secrets of the Springs: Astrobiology in Yellowstone National Park," features an outline of astrobiology and its three fundamental questions; a map of astrobiology-related sites in Yellowstone; and an overview of "extreme environments" and their connection to the search for extra-terrestrial life.

The book was created by astrobiology researchers at Montana State University with support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

The book can be downloaded in PDF format at or viewed online at

Printed copies of the guidebook are free for teachers to use as a classroom resource. Museums and science centers may also have free print copies. Contact Suzi Taylor with MSU Extended University at

Montana State University's Extended University offers workforce training and professional development, science education and public outreach, educational technologies and distance learning courses, degrees and certificates via Montana State Online.

The Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA) Greenbelt, MD 20771

The 2011 Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology Program is a 10-week program for undergraduate students interested in working with scientists whose research adds to the current body of astrobiology knowledge. Each research associate (RA) will participate in a specific research program, working directly with one of our Team scientists at Goddard Space Flight Center. The RA will work closely with the mentor to conduct a well-defined investigation, reduce data, and produce an end-of- program presentation. The presentation will demonstrate the knowledge gained over the course of the summer, and will be given in an oral forum during the last week of the program. As a group, the RAs will meet with a different GCA Team member each week to learn more about his/her respective area of research, and to gain a broader view of Astrobiology.

- Housing is paid for by the GCA and is provided by University of Maryland Resident Life
- Dates of Attendance are June 6, 2011
- August 12, 2011 (must be available for all 10 weeks)
- The stipend is $4,500 for ten weeks
- Research Associates are provided with computers and a workspace for the duration of the program
- Foreign National Students must obtained an OPT from their current US University
- The GCA does not sponsor Visas or OPTs.

Selection criteria for the Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology include:

- A demonstrated enthusiasm and interest in Astrobiology
- Interest in scientific research
- Letters of reference from two Faculty members
- The Original Letter of Reference along with two copies should be sent under separate cover by your referrers to Corinne Eby (address is listed below)
- Overall academic quality (honors, awards, GPA, etc.)

Application form and more information