Education and Outreach: January 2009

The NASA Planetary Biology Internship Program provides opportunities each year for nine or 10 interns to undertake research at NASA research centers, NASA-sponsored laboratories, and academic institutions. The pursuit of such studies is expected to broaden the base of this new science by encouraging people in many different fields to take part.

Graduate students accepted in the PBI program will be expected to carry out research with a NASA-sponsored investigator for eight weeks, usually during the summer months. Typical programs in which interns may become involved include: global ecology and remote sensing; microbial ecology and bio-mineralization; advanced life support; and origin and early evolution of life.

Applications are due March 2, 2009. For more information, visit . Please e-mail questions about this opportunity to Michael Dolan at

Dear Colleagues,

The American Institutue for Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA) is again organizing a Congressional Visit Day, to occur this year on March 17 - 18 in Washington, DC. As in recent years, the ASGSB will have representatives in the delegation that fans out across Capitol Hill, visiting key congressional offices to educate staffers involved with senators and representatives with interests and committee assignments that are relevant to NASA activities. It is especially effective to have young, informed, enthusiastic and articulate students representing current and future activities in the space life sciences. We are fortunate that the AIAA is inviting student participation in the delegation.

I write to invite nominees for ASGSB Student Delegates for CVD on March 17-18. Transportation and expenses will be covered for one, or possibly two ASGSB students. Please send your nominations, along with a CV for each student to my assistant, Ms. Barbara Grinder, bgrinder (at)

Best wishes,

Jeffrey R. Alberts
President, ASGSB

Applications are invited for an Origins Institute (OI) Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellowship to commence on, or after Sept. 1, 2009 for an initial period of 2 years, with the possibility of renewal for a third year. The OI is involved in a wide range of astrobiological research including several major national and international collaborative efforts (see our website ). Funds will also be available to cover travel and research expenses.

Areas of interest include: the formation and delivery of biomolecules to terrestrial planets; the formation, physical properties, and characterization of SuperEarths and terrestrial exoplanets; phylogenetics and prebiotic conditions related to the RNA world and the evolution of the earliest organisms; microbiology in extreme environments on Earth including polar microbiology and microbial energetics in extreme environments; and the interpretation of biosignatures as the basis of understanding early life on Earth and as the foundation for the search for life on Mars. OI researchers are working at several Mars analogue sites and are associated with solar system exploration for signatures of microbial life. The OI has a strong complement of faculty members in a number of related fields and the OI Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellow will have many opportunities to collaborate with OI faculty and OI collaborative research programs.

Immediate openings for enthusiastic Post-doctoral Fellows in the Department of Biochemistry at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The aim of our laboratory is to understand the molecular interactions that the ribosome makes with different regulatory factors at various stages of the translation cycle (Cell (2005) 123(7) 1255-66; Science (2006) 313(5795) 1935-42; RNA (2007) 13(6) 817-23; Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (2007) 14(8) 733-7). Our group primarily uses the structural biology technique of X-ray crystallography in addition to complementary biochemical and biophysical techniques to address function in vitro.

Our group is investigating bacterial spore viability in extreme environments. We currently focus on the following specific areas: (1) development of an endospore viability assay based on dipicolinic acid detection, (2) investigation of the microbial ecology of desert soils, permafrost, and Antarctic ice, (3) development of field-instrumentation for deployment in extreme environments. This works relates to NASA s strategic goals of investigating past or present habitable environment on Mars or other worlds by focusing on the boundary conditions for life in extreme environments on Earth. Deadline: Feb 1, 2009

Source: [NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP)]

Observations of the surface of the inner planets, the satellites and rings of the outer planets, asteroids and comets across the spectral range from ultraviolet through active and passive microwaves; studies of meteorites and cosmic dust; theory and modeling relevant to the origin and evolution of the solid bodies of the solar system; development of approaches to the detection and characterization of solar systems around other stars. Deadline: Feb 1, 2009

Source: [NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP)]

NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program: Bacterial Spore Viability in Extreme Environments

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., has released a Cooperative Agreement Notice to solicit proposals to administer the Education Associates Program. The EAP is a unique self-sustaining program dedicated to workforce development education. The program allows NASA scientists and managers to tap higher education institutions for students and faculty in a quick turn-around process. It provides participants hands-on experience with NASA scientists, engineers and program managers on a range of NASA projects and missions. Students receive academic credit for the experience. Through this program, NASA demonstrates its commitment to attract students into NASA's education pipeline and provides competency-building research and education opportunities for faculty, with a special emphasis on those from underrepresented and underserved groups. The EAP will provide opportunities to students majoring in fields related to NASA's science and technology interests and to faculty in STEM disciplines.

NASA Ames has developed a nanosensor technology for high sensitive and low power chemical sensing using nanostructure, single walled carbon nanotubes (SWNT's), combined with silicon-based micro fabrication and micromachining process. Due to large surface area, low surface energy barrier and high thermal and mechanical stability, nanostructured chemical sensors offer higher sensitivity, lower power consumption and a more robust solution than most state-of-the art systems making them attractive for space and defense applications, as well as a variety of commercial applications. Leveraging the micromachining technology, the light weight and compact sensors can be fabricated, in wafer scale for mass production, with high yield and at low cost. Such sensors have drawn attention from the space community for global weather monitoring, space exploration, life search in the universe, and launch pad fuel leak detection and in-flight cabin monitoring and engine operation monitoring.

We are developing the remote sensing techniques based on combined Raman spectrometer and UV fluorescence instrument suite for biogenic organics detections and characterizations. Our key step is to target the optimal instrument performance based on the systematic laboratory investigation and field- testing. Our measurement goals are: (1) ppm to ppb detection limits for organic molecules from natural samples without exaction or any preparation, (2) characterization of types of organic compounds based on complementary Raman and fluorescent signatures at sufficient detail to indicate possible biological origin. We will also incorporate the ultra sensitive spectroscopy technique for trace detection using surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy. The effort includes laboratory instrument technique and field instrument design with fiber optical probes. Deadline: 5:00 PM EST February 1, 2009.

Comets are the deep freezers of dust and ices extant in the early solar nebula at the time of the formation of the giant planets. Astromineralogy is the study of the chemical and structural properties of the dust grains. Studying the dust mineralogy in comets and protoplanetary disks, and, in particular, the amorphous and crystalline silicates, probes the relative abundances of interstellar grains and grains thermally altered or condensed in the inner hot regions of disks, respectively. Research combines analysis and modeling of Spitzer and ground-based spectroscopy of comets as well as radiative transfer modeling of protoplanetary disks to further our understanding of the thermal processing and radial transport of dust in protoplanetary disks at the early epochs of planetesimal formation. Deadline: 5:00 PM EST February 1, 2009.

This research focuses on the general circulation and climate system of Mars. There have been 7 successful spacecraft missions to Mars in the past 10 years returning valuable new data about the thermal structure of the atmosphere, the seasonal cycles of dust, water, and carbon dioxide, and the nature of the surface and subsurface. Our group interprets these data using a Mars General Circulation Model. We use the model to simulate the observations and determine what physical and dynamical processes are responsible for them. The model includes a full surface heat budget, a cloud microphysics package, a two-stream radiation code for gases and aerosols, a level-2 boundary layer scheme, mass conserving tracer transport algorithms, and CO2 condensation/sublimation physics. Topics we are currently studying include coupling between the present day dust, water, and CO2 cycles, the effect of orbital changes on past climates, and the nature of the early Martian atmosphere when surface pressures were thought to be higher than they are today. The goal of this work is to understand how the Martian atmosphere and climate system have evolved through time. Deadline: Feb 1, 2009

Members of the Astrochemistry Laboratory propose and carry out measurements, observations and modeling of key rates and/or fundamental quantities that control important chemical processes in astrophysical and planetary environments or that yield the chemical and isotopic compositions of solar system bodies. Members also perform simulations of natural processes or synthesize simplified analog samples of natural materials in order to better understand the unexpected consequences of natural events or to record the spectroscopic properties of well characterized samples for comparison with observations. Deadline: Feb 1, 2009

Source: [NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP)]

We are engaged in developing the near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and are planning on using these instruments to observe transiting exoplanets. This work is being done in conjunction with exoplanet theorists and other JWST team members and should predict what scientific results will be possible with JWST. We are also investigating direct imaging coronagraphic exoplanet missions and are developing a state-of-the-art Phase Induced Amplitude Apodization coronagraph testbed in our Ames Coronagraph Experiment Laboratory. Deadline: February 1st, 2009

Source: [NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP)]

Our groups work focuses on characterizing microbial ecology and biogeochemistry in natural ecosystems that are relevant in an astrobiological context. We are particularly interested in understanding how the distribution and activities of microbial populations are shaped by energy flow. Deadline: 5:00 PM EST February 1, 2009.

Source: [NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP)]