David J. Smith [EMAIL]

Research Scientist,
Kennedy Space Center, NASA

Dual-Title PhD, Biology & Astrobiology (2012)

Astrobiology Areas of Interest: Life in Extreme Environments, Space Exploration


I have always been captivated with astrobiology and the prospect of discovering life beyond Earth. I am passionate about spaceflight and eager to be involved in the new era of scientific exploration on the Moon and Mars.
As a NASA graduate co-op, I combine my PhD research with practical work experience at Kennedy Space Center (typically one quarter per year). I came to the University of Washington from Princeton University, where I studied Ecological & Evolutionary Biology. Currently based in the Biology Department at UW, my research interest is aerobiology in the upper atmosphere.
To collect samples I have used NASA high-altitude aircraft and mountaintop observatories in the Pacific Northwest. I want to understand the diversity, survival, and distribution of microorganisms floating high above the Earth's surface; a challenging environment characterized by high irradiation, low temperature and pressure, and extreme desiccation. I am currently Principal Investigator of MIST (Microorganisms in the Stratosphere), a NASA/KSC balloon mission aiming to measure microbial populations at extreme altitudes starting in 2012. 
Beyond my aerobiology interests, I have participated in several exciting research rotations at UW. I have traveled to the Antarctica three times to study late Cretaceous environmental conditions using paleomagnetics and biostratigraphy.
A list of my publications can be located here: