Astrobiology (general): September 2011

Applications are now being accepted for the "Sao Paulo Advanced School of Astrobiology - Making Connections (SPASA 2011)", organized by the Department of Astronomy of the Universidade de Sao Paulo and by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, Brazil.

Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Date: December 11 to 20, 2011

Home Page:

Target audience: Undergraduate, graduate students and early career post-docs in biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, earth sciences and related areas.

Objective: Astrobiology is a multidisciplinary field that aims to study the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the Universe, with a broad and multidisciplinary scope, requiring a constant dialogue among different areas. This is a new and very promising scientific research field, with the ambitious goal of seeking answers to some of the most complex scientific questions. The SPASA aims to bring together renowned experts from different countries with students of different fields in a multidisciplinary event that will address some of the general themes of research in astrobiology, as well as more specific topics in the frontier of science that are being developed worldwide. Stimulating the connection between topics and the exchange of knowledge among the participants is the main goal of this event.

Application Period: Until October 1, 2011, through the event website. Contact:

Selected participants from all countries will have travel and accommodation expenses covered by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation.

Source: NAI newsletter

Interested in helping scientists pinpoint where to look for signs of life on Mars? Now you can, with an exciting new citizen science website called MAPPER ( that was launched in conjunction with the Pavilion Lake Research Project's 2011 field season.

The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP,, which is supported by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, has been investigating the underwater environment of Pavilion and Kelly Lake in British Columbia, Canada with DeepWorker submersible vehicles (Nuytco Ltd, since 2008. Now with MAPPER, you can work side-by-side with NASA scientists to explore the bottom of these lakes from the perspective of a DeepWorker pilot.

The PLRP team makes use of DeepWorker subs to explore and document freshwater carbonate formations known as microbialites that thrive in Pavilion and Kelly Lake. Many scientists believe that a better understanding of how and where these rare microbialite formations develop will lead to deeper insights into where signs of life may be found on Mars and beyond. To investigate microbialite formation in detail, terabytes of video footage and photos of the lake bottom are recorded by PLRP's DeepWorker sub pilots. This data must be analyzed to determine what types of features can be found in different parts of the lake. Ultimately, detailed maps can be generated to help answer questions like "how does microbialite texture and size vary with depth?" and "why do microbialites grow in certain parts of the lake but not in others?". But before these questions can be answered, all the data must be analyzed.

Dear Colleague, I write to invite you to attend AbSciCon 2012 and to seek your participation in developing the meeting program. In the long tradition of AbSciCon, the Program Committee will rely on input from the astrobiology community in developing the program. We seek your nominations for session, symposium and workshop topics. Please refer to the meeting web page to nominate a session and to observe important deadlines. The deadline for session nominations is October 15, 2011. The call for abstracts is November 15. The abstract deadline is Jan 31, 2012. For further information, consult the AbSciCon Meeting Web Page:

Loren Williams
Professor & Director, Ribo Evo Center
School of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Georgia Tech
Important AbSciCon 2012 Timepoints

Sept 1, 2011 Call for Session Topics/Organizers
Nov 15, 2011 Call for Abstracts Jan 31, 2012 ABSTRACT DEADLINE
Mar 1, 2012 Conference Program posted
Mar 31, 2012 Pre-registration deadline
April 16-20, 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference 2012

Betty Pierazzo: 1963-2011

Betty Pierazzo, Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), died on Sunday, May 15, at her home in Tucson, Arizona. She was 47. Betty was an expert in the area of impact modeling throughout the solar system as well as an expert on the astrobiological and environmental effects of impacts on Earth and Mars. She had a passion for teaching and was a driving force in the development and expansion of PSI's education and public outreach program. Betty approached both life and work with enthusiasm and joy and was an inspiring colleague, teacher, mentor, and staunch friend.

Memorial sites have been posted at: and

Astrobiologist Wins Murchison Medal

The Geological Society of London, the recognised UK professional body for geoscientists, awards several medals each year to honor significant contributions to the geological sciences. Please join us in congratulating Bruce Watson of NAI's RPI team who is the 2011 recipient of the Society's Murchison Medal. The Society's Awards for 2011 were presented on 8 June 2011.

The Murchison Medal is given to an individual each year who has made a significant contribution to the science by means of a substantial body of research. The Society regards this medal very highly and it is not normally awarded on the basis of a few good papers. Workers in both 'pure' and 'applied' aspects of the geological sciences are eligible. The Murchison Medal is normally given for contributions to 'hard' rock studies.

For more information:

Astrobiologist Wins Darwin-Wallace Medal

This year's recipient of the prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal is James A. Lake, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a researcher with NASA's Astrobiology Program. The Linnean Society of London awards this medal for major advances in evolutionary biology. Lake received the medal in London on May 25, 2011.

Lake is a collaborator with the NASA Astrobiology Institute's (NAI) NASA Ames Research Center team, which is studying early habitable environments and the evolution of complexity in planetary environments and life. Lake's NAI research focuses on the origins of functional proteins and the early evolution of metabolism.

A member of UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute, Lake is known for his expertise in genomics and bioinformatics, including the origin and evolution of genomes. Among his more recent accomplishments is his discovery of the first exclusively prokaryotic endosymbiosis--the merger of two prokaryotes to form a new, eukaryotic life form. Prokaryotes are single-celled life forms without membrane-bound nuclei, whereas eukaryotic cells contain membrane-bound nuclei.

"Dr. Lake's contributions to astrobiology are critical," said Mary A. Voytek, Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters. "He and his collaborators are helping us to accomplish key goals in our Astrobiology Roadmap: understanding the general physical and chemical principles underlying the origins of life, how life and the environment on Earth have co-evolved through geological time, and the evolutionary mechanisms and environmental limits of life."

The organizing committee for the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) is now soliciting community input for session topics and session organizers. Proposals for session topics must be received by September 30, 2011.

AbSciCon 2012 will be hosted by the Georgia Institute of Technology from April 16 - 20, 2012, in Atlanta, GA.

To submit session topics for AbSciCon and for further details on the conference, visit: