January 2013

This week, fizzy ocean water and the alkaline fluid that bubbles up from deep ocean vents are coursing through a structure at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. that is reminiscent of the pillared Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute's JPL Icy Worlds team have built this series of glass tubes, thin barrels and valves with a laser and a detector system. The set-up mimics the conditions at hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth's ocean and also detects compounds coming out of it. They want to see if sending these two liquids through a sample of rock that simulates ancient volcanic ocean crust can lead to the formation of simple organic molecules such as ethane and methane, and amino acids, biologically important organic molecules. Scientists have long considered these compounds the precursor ingredients for what later led to chains of RNA, DNA and microbes.

A group of researchers at JPL, including senior geologist Mike Russell, Icy Worlds Principal Investigator Isik Kanik, postdoctoral fellow Laurie Barge, graduate student Lauren White and visiting scholar Takazo Shibuya, have been testing this "origin of life" theory in a refrigerator-sized apparatus at an annex to the Microdevices Laboratory at JPL. The latest segment of the experiment, which is running this week, will track the transformation of carbon molecules into the hydrocarbons methane and ethane. Scientists want to know where the carbon for the organic molecules originates.

Earth's present-day environments are the outcome of a 4.5 billion year period of evolution reflecting the interaction of global-scale geological and biological processes punctuated by several extraordinary events and episodes that perturbed the entire Earth system. One of the earliest and arguably greatest of these events was a substantial increase (orders of magnitude) in the atmospheric oxygen abundance, sometimes referred to as the Great Oxidation Event.

The Fennoscandian Arctic Russia - Drilling Early Earth Project (FAR-DEEP), co-funded by NAI, set out to create a geological archive of the progressive oxidation of Earth's surface environments and associated global events. A new, three-volume series documenting the results is available at

Volume 1: The Palaeoproterozoic of Fennoscandia as Context for the Fennoscandian Arctic Russia - Drilling Earth Project describes the implementation of the FAR-DEEP drilling project in Arctic Russia. It summarises the knowledge of more than 50 years of largely Russian-led fieldwork, information hitherto virtually unavailable in the west, and provides geological description of drilling areas with an overwhelming illustration of rocks by high-quality, representative photographs. The volume offers a comprehensive review and rich photo-illustration of palaeotectonic, palaeogeographic and magmatic evolution of the Fennoscandian Shield in the early Palaeoproterozoic, and link the evolution of the shield to the emergence of an aerobic Earth system. The volume unfolds the event-based Fennoscandian chronostratigraphy and discusses the chronology of the Palaeoproterozoic global events as the base for a new subdivision of Palaeoproterozoic time.

Solicitation Number: NNH13ZDA006C
Posted Date: January 10, 2013
Proposal Due Date: April 10, 2013

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is soliciting the submission of multiinstitutional team-based proposals for research as participating members of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), hereafter referred to as "the Institute." The Institute will succeed the current NASA Lunar Science Institute. Proposals must clearly articulate an innovative, broadly based research program addressing basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the nature of the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids (NEA), the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies, to enable human exploration of these destinations. Proposals in the areas of astrophysics and heliophysics that are enabled through human and robotic exploration of the Target Bodies are also solicited through this Cooperative Agreement Notice.

The research scope for the CAN is in the fields of lunar, NEA, and Martian moon sciences, with preference given to topics that relate to the joint interests of both planetary science and human exploration. Topics in astrophysics and heliophysics that are enabled through exploration of the Target Bodies are also within the scope of the CAN. The proposed research should address NASA's science and exploration goals (either or both) and should include broadly based investigations of the highest quality that address basic and applied science objectives. The proposed research should be integrated; thus, proposals consisting of tasks addressing multifaceted questions must demonstrate credible, scientific connections among the tasks. Proposals that only address a single question should strive to integrate interdisciplinary expertise and methodologies. It is expected, but not required, that teams bring together broadly based expertise from more than a single institution.

Application Deadline: February 1, 2013

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 early career scientists who are affiliated with U.S. institutions.

The Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology is designed for field studies in any area of astrobiology research. 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 page:

The Kepler Participating Scientist Program (PSP) is designed to fund community investigations that advance the goals of the Kepler Mission during its extended phase. Participating Scientists may pursue data processing and analysis tasks, exoplanet candidate follow-up observations, completeness and reliability studies, characterization of the stellar target sample, etc.

The Kepler PSP is complementary to, but distinct from, the Kepler Guest Observer (GO) program. The Kepler GO program offers members of the scientific community the opportunity to pursue research in any area of astrophysics through observations of stellar and/or nonstellar targets that fall within the Kepler field-of-view, but are not included in the Kepler target list. Kepler GOs are solicited under Appendix D.7 of the ROSES 2012 NRA.

Notices of intent are requested by January 18, 2013, and the due date for proposals is March 1, 2013.

On November 28, 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:

Technical questions regarding the Kepler extended mission and key science project activities may be directed to: Dr. Steve Howell, Kepler Project Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center, MS 244-30 Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000. E-mail:; Telephone: (650) 604-4238.

NASA point of contact for programmatic information is Dr. Douglas Hudgins Astrophysics Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546-0001. Telephone: (202) 358-0988; E-mail:

Application Deadline: July 1, 2013

The NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) provides opportunities for Ph.D. scientists and engineers of unusual promise and ability to perform research on problems largely of their own choosing, yet compatible with the research interests of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

As noted on the NPP Web site (, the Astrobiology Program does not participate in every application/award cycle. The next award cycle that the Astrobiology Program will participate in will be for the July 1, 2013 application deadline. Additional information and application instructions are available at

Applicants must have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree in hand before beginning the fellowship, but may apply while completing the degree requirements. U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and foreign nationals eligible for J-1 status as a Research Scholar may apply.

The intent of this program is to develop outstanding early career astrobiology researchers, broaden the scope of Astrobiology Program research, and continue to build and integrate the astrobiology community. Accordingly, priority for selection will be given to applicants whose proposed research is particularly interdisciplinary and/or innovative. Research that involves one or more elements of the Astrobiology Program will also be given priority for selection, as will research that broadens the activities of the Program. Proposals for research that incrementally extend ongoing projects will be given lower selection priority.

Applications due: February 15, 2013

In this intense multidisciplinary summer course, June 9 - July 12, explore the coevolution of the Earth and its biosphere, with emphasis on how microbial processes affect the environment and leave imprints on the rock record. Participants get hands-on experience in cutting-edge geobiological techniques including molecular biology, bioinformatics, geochemistry, petrology and sedimentology, and work in research groups to solve relevant questions. The course will involve a field trip to the Great Salt Lake and southern Wyoming. Lab work will be conducted at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, USC/Caltech/JPL in the Los Angeles area and the USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island. The 2013 course is open to students and researchers at any level, although we give preference to graduate students in their early to mid years of study.

For more information visit:

The NASA Astrobiology Program Early Career Collaboration Award offers research-related travel support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Applicants are encouraged to use these resources to circulate among two or more research teams, however any travel that is critical for the applicant's research will be considered. Travelers must be formally affiliated with a U.S. institution. Requests are limited to $5,000. The next deadline is April 1, 2013

For more information, see

Due to the popularity of last year's conference, the NASA Year of the Solar System (YSS) Undergraduate Planetary Science Research Conference is again being hosted in conjunction with the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) March 18-22, 2013 in The Woodlands, Texas.

The NASA YSS Undergraduate Planetary Science Research Conference will include:

* 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," which will pair students with a scientist for a portion 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, submit the indication of interest form, which serves as the registration form for the NASA YSS Undergraduate Conference. Applications are due by close of business February 8, 2013. NASA YSS Undergraduate Conference student participants, and all participants receiving travel support, are expected to submit an abstract for the NASA YSS Undergraduate Conference by February 8, 2013, and present a poster at the conference. Go to the abstract submission form to submit your NASA YSS Undergraduate Conference abstract. Participating students are welcome to also submit an abstract to the LPSC conference, but are not required to do so; the LPSC abstract submission deadline is January 8, 2013.

For all the details visit:

The NAI has selected five early career astrobiologists to participate in an 11-day tour of astrobiology-relevant field sites in Western Australia. This Astrobiology Grand Tour is organized by the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA) and will include visits to the extant stromatolites of Shark Bay, the banded iron formations and iron ore mines of the Hamersley Basin, the putative cyanobacterial stromatolites of the 2.7 Ga Fortescue Group, and the 3.35-3.49 Ga fossiliferous and other units of the Pilbara Craton with what is arguably the oldest convincing evidence of life on Earth.

The five early career scientists selected are:

Megan Ansdell University of Hawaii
Yadira Ibarra University of Southern California
Giulio Mariotti Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Kathleen Scanlon Brown University
Eva Stueeken University of Washington

Hoeor, Sweden, 6 - 9 June 2013

The meeting aims to bring together scientists and teachers engaged in astrobiology education on universities and other training institutions to

* discuss new teaching and assesment forms in astrobiology
* foster international cooperation in astrobiology teaching
* give the attendants athorough overview of the field.

Training students in such a multidisciplinary subject implies a lot of challenges and pitfalls, both in the set-up and organization of the course, choice of lecturers and literature, grading of students as well as the necessity of new teaching methods. The conference will not only serve as forum for exchange of ideas and experiences, but also as a starting point for a long-term international collaboration in astrobiology teaching. Furthermore, the meeting will produce a set of videotaped lectures that can be used as a reference for institutions organizing astrobiology courses.

The astrobiology community deeply mourns the loss of Dr. Carl Woese, the University of Illinois microbiology professor credited with the discovery of a "third domain" of life. He died on Sunday, December 30th at his home. He was 84.

In 1977, Dr. Woese and his colleagues overturned a universally held assumption about the basic structure of the tree of life. Microbes known as archaea are as distinct from bacteria as plants and animals are, they wrote in a published paper. Prior to this finding, scientists had lumped archaea together with bacteria and asserted that the tree of life had two main branches -- bacteria (called prokarya), and everything else (eukarya). Their discovery added archaea as a third main branch of the evolutionary family tree.

Dr. Woese was born on July 15, 1928, in Syracuse, N.Y. He earned bachelor's degrees in math and physics from Amherst College and a Ph.D. in biophysics at Yale University. He studied medicine at the University of Rochester, was a postdoctoral researcher in biophysics at Yale and worked as a biophysicist at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, N.Y. before he joined the microbiology faculty at the University of Illinois in 1964. He was also a professor at the UI's Institute for Genomic Biology.

"Carl was truly a man of vision, creativity and passion, with a deep love of this university," said Gene Robinson, director of the UI's Institute for Genomic Biology in a statement. "Carl not only rewrote the textbook in evolutionary biology, but his discovery also has given us the tools today to study the human microbiome, the incredibly diverse and complex assemblages of microorganisms in our bodies that contribute so much to both health and disease."

Woese received a number of awards for his research: a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1984, election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1988, the Leeuwenhoek Medal (microbiology's premier honor from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) in 1992, a National Medal of Science in 2000 and many more.

Source: [University of Illinois]