December 2012

Astrobiology Daily News 22 Dec 2012

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announced today a $480,000 gift from the Emily Landecker Foundation. The gift will establish the James P. Ferris Fellowship in Astrobiology, which will support graduate students in the School of Science pursuing research in the interdisciplinary field of astrobiology. The fellowship is named in honor of Ferris, an emeritus professor of chemistry and chemical biology, currently a senior research professor, and a member of the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer.

"The field of Astrobiology seeks to address some of the most fascinating questions in science: What makes a planet habitable? How did life on Earth begin? Is there life elsewhere?" said Laurie Leshin, dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer. "The James P. Ferris Fellowship in Astrobiology will allow us to attract the very best graduate students to Rensselaer to explore these compelling questions through their research. We are extremely grateful for the generous support of the Emily Landecker Foundation in establishing the fellowship, which is a fitting tribute to Jim Ferris' pioneering work in this exciting field."

The center places a strong emphasis on education and training, and graduate students with an interest in the field are offered strong opportunities for research under the mentorship of faculty members in the center, according to Professor Doug Whittet, director of the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invites scientists, technologists, and other qualified and interested individuals at U.S. institutions and elsewhere to apply for membership on the Science Definition Team (SDT) for the 2020 Mars science rover mission (hereafter Mars-2020). Mars-2020 is a strategic mission sponsored by NASA's Planetary Science Division, through the Mars Exploration Program, all of which are part of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD).

This mission will advance the scientific priorities detailed in the National Research Council's Planetary Science Decadal Survey, entitled "Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022," (the Decadal Survey is available at ). Mars-2020 rover development and design will be largely based upon the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface on August 6, 2012 (UTC). The 2020 rover is intended to investigate an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment on Mars to decipher its geological processes and history, including the assessment of its past habitability and potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geologic materials.

Furthermore, because NASA is embarking on a long-term effort for eventual human exploration of Mars, the mission should provide an opportunity for contributed Human Exploration Mission Directorate (HEOMD) or Space Technology Program (STP) participation via payload elements aligned with their priorities and compatible with SMD priorities for Mars-2020 (e.g., MEPAG P-SAG report, posted June 2012 to MEPAG website: ).

The members of the Mars-2020 SDT will provide NASA with scientific assistance and direction during preliminary concept definition (Pre-Phase A) activities. Near-term activities of the SDT will include the establishment of baseline mission science objectives and a realistic scientific concept of surface operations; development of a strawman payload/instrument suite as proof of concept; and suggestions for threshold science objectives/measurements for a preferred mission viable within resource constraints provided by NASA Headquarters. The products developed by the SDT will be used to develop the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Announcement of Opportunity (AO) that will outline the primary science objectives of the baseline mission and the character of the payload-based investigations solicited under open competition via the AO. The SDT will be formed in January 2013, and disbanded after the work is complete approximately four months later.

Please join in congratulating Gerry Joyce and Jim Lake on their induction into the 232nd class of members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780, the American Academy is one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious learned societies, and an independent research center that draws from its members' expertise to conduct studies in science and technology policy, global security, the humanities and culture, social policy, and education.

Lake and Joyce, both long-time members of the astrobiology community, are among the one hundred-eighty influential artists, scientists, scholars, authors, and institutional leaders who were inducted into the Academy at a ceremony on Saturday, October 6th. They both join the Academy's Biological Science class - Lake is in the Evolutionary and Population Biology and Ecology section and Joyce is in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology section.

Application Deadline: January 18, 2013

Applications Now Being Accepted for the 2012 Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) Summer Intern Program in Planetary Science. The LPI invites undergraduates with at least 50 semester hours of credit to experience research in the planetary sciences. As a summer intern, you will work one-on-one with a scientist either at the LPI or NASA Johnson Space Center on a research project of current interest in planetary science. Furthermore, you will participate in peer-reviewed research, learn from top-notch planetary scientists, and preview various careers in science.

The 10-week program begins June 3, 2013, and ends on August 9, 2013. Selected students will receive a $5000.00 stipend plus a travel stipend of $1000.00 (U.S. students) (foreign nationals will receive a $1500.00 foreign travel reimbursement).

Applications are only accepted via the electronic application form found at the LPI's Summer Intern Program website: Faculty members: Please pass this information on to any of your students who might be interested. Contact: Claudia Quintana Phone: 281-486-2159 E-mail:

The Planetary Science Division is currently seeking volunteer mail-in reviewers for the Outer Planets Research (OPR) and Maturation of Instruments for Solar System Exploration (MatiSSE) Programs. A web form for volunteers can be found at where volunteers can indicate their interest and areas of expertise.

Departments of Geology and Chemistry, University of Cincinnati

I am looking for M.S. or Ph.D. students to join my lab at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Geology. Overall, I am interested in the early history of life on Earth, evidence for which can come from morphological and geochemical studies of microfossils as well as chemical and isotopic signatures in ancient sediments. I am also interested in the Phanerozoic record of microbes. I have an affiliation with the NASA Astrobiology Institute and there will be opportunities for students to get involved.

Possible topics that students could pursue include:
*Precambrian record of deep-water microbiotas
*Metabolisms of ancient microbes
*Taphonomy and fossilization of microorganisms
*Phanerozoic record of microbial life
*Microbial endoliths in Phanerozoic skeletal fossils

My lab is designed to study both the morphology and chemistry of fossil microorganisms via standard transmitted light microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). Additionally, I have collaborations and associations with researchers at many institutions, including UCLA, UW-Madison, JPL, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where students can access facilities not available in my lab, such as multi-collector inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometers, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, and organic geochemical and carbon isotope facilities.

The University of Cincinnati is home to the #6 ranked paleontology program in the country and students would have access to expertise of world-class paleontologist and geochemists, as well as the courses offered, such as Marine Paleoenvironments and Paleoecology, Biodiversity Through Geological Time, and Organic Geochemistry.

Students should have a background (B.S./B.A. or M.S.) in geology, biology, microbiology, chemistry, or other related field. Note: my joint appointment in the departments of Geology and Chemistry means students can be enrolled in either department. For more information, please contact Andy Czaja at: 513-556-3574 (office) 310-720-5601 (cell) (website:

The deadline for NEW applications is February 1, 2013, and the deadline for RENEWAL applications is March 15, 2013.

NASA announces a call for graduate fellowship proposals to the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) program for the 2013-2014 academic year. This call for fellowship proposals solicits applications from accredited U.S. universities on behalf of individuals pursuing Master of Science (M.Sc.) or Doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees in Earth and space sciences, or related disciplines. The purpose of NESSF is to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines needed to achieve NASA's scientific goals. Awards resulting from the competitive selection will be made in the form of training grants to the respective universities.

The NESSF call for proposals and submission instructions are located at the NESSF 13 solicitation index page at - click on "Solicitations" then click on "Open Solicitations" then select the "NESSF 13" announcement. Also refer to "Proposal Submission Instructions" and "Frequently Asked Questions" listed under "Other Documents" on the NESSF 13 solicitation index page.

All proposals must be submitted in electronic format only through the NASA NSPIRES system. The advisor has an active role in the submission of the fellowship proposal. To use the NSPIRES system, the advisor, the student, and the university must all register. Extended instructions on how to submit an electronic proposal package are posted on the NESSF 13 solicitation index page listed above. You can register in NSPIRES at

For further information contact Claire Macaulay, Program Administrator for NESSF Earth Science Research, Telephone: (202) 358-0151, E-mail: or Dolores Holland, Program Administrator for NESSF Heliophysics Research, Planetary Science Research, and Astrophysics Research, Telephone: (202) 358-0734, E-mail:

Notices of Intent are requested by January 11, 2013, and proposals are due by March 1, 2013

This solicitation is for investigations in the Participating Scientist program to enhance the scientific return from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission by broadening participation in the mission, augmenting the existing science team to include new investigations that broaden and/or complement the funded investigations, thus maximizing the contribution of the mission to the scientific understanding and future exploration of Mars. The second and equally important goal of this opportunity is to increase the number of scientists supporting mission planning and execution. While a large fraction of the planned observations will be planned in advance, real-time response to a brand-new set of observations is expected to result in an ongoing requirement for significant replanning. Additional investigators will contribute substantially to enhanced understanding of the data and to improved planning stimulated by the observations. Participating Scientist proposals can include investigations that are instrument specific or involve multiple instruments and, in all cases, must include both science analysis and a commitment to participate in operations planning in order to be considered.

On or about November 7, 2012, this Amendment to the NASA Research Announcement "Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) 2012" (NNH12ZDA001N) will be posted on the NASA research opportunity homepage at and will appear on the RSS feed at:

Questions concerning this program may be addressed to Kelly Fast, Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546-0001.
E-mail:; Telephone: (202) 358- 0768.

Application Deadline: January 7, 2013

Are you looking to do something special with your summer? The NASA Ames Academy is a unique summer institute of higher learning whose goal is to help guide future leaders of the U.S. Space Program by giving them a glimpse of how the whole system works. It's an immersive and integrated multidisciplinary exposure and training, for students with various backgrounds and career aspirations of critical importance to the national aerospace program.

Apply online at: https//

The academic curriculum balances opportunities for direct contact with advanced science and engineering R&D and an awareness of the complex managerial, political, financial, social, and human issues faced by the current and future aerospace programs.

Co-sponsorship of the Academy assures recruitment of meritorious students from previously under-represented areas of the country, into leadership positions for the aerospace programs of the future.

Application Deadline: January 18, 2013

Astrobiology is broadly defined as the scientific study of the origin, evolution, distribution, conditions and destiny of life in the universe. This new, transdisciplinary science is based on two scientific revolutions - the recent realization that microbial life is extremely hardy and can thrive in very harsh environments previously thought uninhabitable on Earth and the explosion of space technologies that are driving the robotic exploration of Mars and other planets in the search for life in our solar system. The Canadian Astrobiology Training Program (CATP) is the first Canadian cross-disciplinary, multi-institutional undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral training program in Astrobiology and is a NSERC-funded Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program (CREATE) (2009-2015) located at McGill University, McMaster University, University of Western Ontario, University of Toronto, and the University of Winnipeg. CATP by its very nature will be accomplished through collaborative and integrative research approaches containing elements of geology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, microbiology, and robotics. CATP trainees (~70 graduate & undergraduate students, PDFs over the next 5 years) will be exposed to innovative research and training approaches, combining fieldwork at unique Canadian analogue sites, including those in the high Arctic, with laboratory work at cutting edge analytical facilities at participating university, government, and industry partners. Shared expertise within and among institutions will be provided by means of course and seminar videoconferencing, and interdisciplinary supervision. Professional training will be enhanced by training rotations with our collaborators at CSA, MDA Space Missions, and our international partners, including NASA Ames. CATP HQP trained in various aspects of astrobiology will be at the forefront of the search for life beyond the Earth. Indeed, CATP will address the recognized lack of HQP in space science and lead to new scientific opportunities and promote Canadian participation in future missions to Mars. The skills acquired through this program will be directly transferable to various other disciplines, such as Earth and environmental sciences, robotics, medicine, and astronomy.

We are presently seeking applicants for Graduate Student Fellowship (MSc and PhD) and Post Doctoral Fellow (PDF) positions available in 2013.

Successful applicants will have a strong interest in astrobiology and have an excellent background in microbiology/ molecular biology, geology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and/or robotics or other related disciplines. There are no restrictions on the nationality of the applicant. Applications will be received until January 18, 2013.

For detailed information on the CATP and how to apply, please visit the CATP website or please directly contact:

Ms Yella Jovich-Zahirovich,NSERC CREATE CATP Project Coordinator
McGill University, Telephone: 514-398-7824, Email:

Application Deadline: December 21, 2012

The College of Science at Virginia Tech, in support of the university's strategic plan, is expanding its research presence in Energy and the Environment through interdisciplinary faculty hires across departments (for further information, visit under faculty openings). As part of this initiative, the Department of Geosciences ( anticipates a tenure-track opening in Paleobiology and Geobiology, to start in Fall 2013 at our Blacksburg, VA Campus. The department is an international leader in many areas of Geosciences research, with six new members added to its faculty in the last two years. For the new position, the successful candidate needs to have outstanding research/teaching experience that explores the paleontological record using observational, experimental, and quantitative methods to reconstruct the co-evolutionary history of the biosphere and Earth's surface environment at various spatial and temporal scales. Appointment at the assistant professor level is anticipated.

The successful candidate will be expected to establish a vigorous research program, teach effectively at the undergraduate and graduate levels, continue development of scholarly activities and professional capabilities, and participate in department, college, and university governance. Occasional travel to attend professional conferences is required. Applicants must have a Ph.D. degree in Geosciences or a related discipline at the time of appointment, have demonstrated capability/promise to develop an active research program, and pass a criminal background check. Preference will be given to candidates whose research areas complement existing strengths in the department.

Questions regarding the new position can be directed to Search Committee chair Dr. Shuhai Xiao ( To receive full consideration, applications must be submitted online (; reference posting #0122338) by December 21, 2012, and should include a cover letter, resume, research statement, teaching statement, and contact information of at least four referees. Salary will be commensurate with rank and experience. Virginia Tech is an EO/AA university, and offers a wide range of networking and development opportunities to women and minorities in science and engineering. Individuals with disabilities desiring accommodations in the application process should notify Mrs. Ellen Mathena at 540-231-6894, or call TTY 1-800-828-1120.