Education and Outreach

Two Post-doc Positions in Astrobiology Available at JPL, Caltech

By Keith Cowing
November 10, 2009

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Postdoctoral Scholars Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) invites applicants to apply for two postdoctoral research positions at JPL in the Planetary Science Section of the Science Division. Each opportunity is supported by a NASA grant to two separate, small, collaborative teams. The successful candidates, while having their own projects, will be expected to work with team members in other institutions.

Topic 1, Mineral biosignatures.

This topic forms part of the work supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through its Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium team (U. Wisconsin, JPL and U. Georgia).

The aim of the research is to develop new biosignatures and paleoenvironmental proxies, with a focus on sulfate evaporate minerals. The planned work has two main strands. It will involve comparing the isotopic compositions of minerals formed by microbial oxidation of sulfides and the abiotic equivalents and also to make laboratory simulations of evaporation sequences and to use the isotopic data to constrain amount of water involved and the paleo-atmospheric-humidity. The biosignatures and paleoenvironmental indicators will be tested by application to the Rio Tinto system, Spain.

Topic 2, The Earth’s deepest hydrothermal vents.

This research is funded by the NASA program, Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP). The work is a collaboration between Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), JPL, the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and Duke University Marine Laboratory (DUML).

We will be using WHOI’s new Hybrid-ROV, Nereus, to investigate hydrothermal systems (past and present) along Earth’s deepest mid-ocean ridge: the ~110km long ultra-slow spreading Mid-Cayman Spreading Center. Sampling is scheduled for Oct-Nov 2009. The results of the work will be used to plan astrobiological exploration of any planetary body that can host hydrothermal circulation (for example, Jupiter’s moon, Europa). The research will involve characterization of minerals and their geochemical and stable isotope compositions to contribute to understanding the present and past energy budgets of the system. The post-doc also will be involved in the application of the integrated results to planning future NASA planetary exploration missions.

The selected candidates will both be guided by the JPL advisor, Dr. Max Coleman, to ensure that the research work will result in publications in the peer-reviewed literature.

Candidates should have a Ph.D. in geochemistry, astrobiology, biogeochemistry, geology, chemistry, environmental science (or other sciences) with a strong background in stable isotope analysis. The appointment is contingent upon evidence of completion of a Ph.D.

For more information: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

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