Biosignatures & Paleobiology

Scientists Secure NASA Grant to Explore Astrobiology Through Student Training and Mentorship

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
November 12, 2023
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Scientists Secure NASA Grant to Explore Astrobiology Through Student Training and Mentorship
(L) )Halobacterium salinarum cultured on a petri dish. (R) Halobacterium salinarum growing in various arsenite concentrations can be observed — Basu lab, California State University, Northridge.

Dr. Chhandak Basu, a faculty member in the Department of Biology at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and Dr. Scott Perl, a Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), have been awarded a nationally competitive grant of $316,000 from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. With an emphasis on student training and mentorship, the grant, entitled “The HALOQUEST (Halobacterium Astrobioloigical Laboratory for Observing and Questioning Extraterrestrial Signatures and Traits)” aims to facilitate cutting-edge research using model microbial systems in astrobiology for identification of chemical biomarkers and physical biosignatures.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate funded this groundbreaking project to allow students, particularly women and underrepresented students, to participate in NASA-relevant research. Dr. Basu, the grant’s Principal Investigator, who is also a Research Affiliate at NASA-JPL, and Dr. Perl will collaborate in a way that will open doors for CSUN students to work at NASA-JPL and create lasting academic and research connections.

Dr. Basu expressed his excitement about the grant, saying, “I am thrilled about this grant. The students at CSUN will have lifetime opportunities to work at NASA and earn degrees from CSUN.” The project aims to provide students with a unique dual mentorship experience, with guidance and support from both Dr. Basu and Dr. Perl. Dr. Perl shared his anticipation, stating, “I am looking forward to collaborating with Dr. Basu’s lab. I will make my lab at NASA-JPL available for CSUN students.” Dr. Perl added, “For the first time, being able to merge efforts for validating biology preserved in salt minerals observed on Mars and the Ocean Worlds with the next generation of graduate students and postdocs will be an invaluable experience and effort.”

This grant will investigate Halobacterium salinarum, an extremophile microbe that thrives in the harshest conditions. This research will provide invaluable data for scientists studying astrobiology, a field of science studying life’s origins and potential in extinct and extant environments.

The partnership between Dr. Basu and Dr. Perl exemplifies a significant step forward in advancing our understanding of astrobiology and offers students the chance to engage in hands-on, real-world research. This grant solidifies the commitment of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to nurturing the next generation of scientists.

For more information about this project and the work of Dr. Chhandak Basu and Dr. Scott Perl, please visit and and

About Dr. Chhandak Basu

Dr. Chhandak Basu was born and raised in Kolkata, India. He completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences from Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya (State Agricultural University), West Bengal, India. He then moved to the USA and completed his M.S. from Montana State University and Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island. He completed his post-doctoral training at the University of Tennessee. He was a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and held a Visiting Faculty position at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. By training, Dr. Basu is a plant and microbial biotechnologist. His work spans how cells survive and thrive in extreme environments. He was a recipient of the nationally competitive ‘Biology Mentor Award (Assistant Professor level)’ (2010) by the Council on Undergraduate Research.

About Dr. Scott Perl

Dr. Scott Perl is a distinguished Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He completed his two Bachelor of Science degrees from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, his M.S. from Purdue University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. His research interests include astrobiology, planetary science, and geobiology. Besides being a scientist at NASA-JPL, he mentored Ph.D. students from many institutions, including Princeton University, University of Southern California, University of Florida, Caltech, Cornell School of Medicine, and UC Riverside. His collaboration with academia and student mentorship, participation as an investigation scientist and science leadership role on several Mars rover and orbiter missions, and life detection efforts for NASA have been the hallmarks of his career thus far.


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻