University of Washington Astrobiology Program

Fall 2012

Program Highlights from the Director


This past year has been exciting and productive one for the University of Washington's astrobiology program. On the program side, six of our participating departments and schools (Astronomy, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Earth and Space Sciences, Oceanography, Biology and Microbiology) came together to usher in our new dual-title PhD in a Home Department and Astrobiology. Ty Robinson then became our first student to graduate with a dual-title degree in Astronomy and Astrobiology with a dissertation on how to detect signs of habitability on an Earth-like planet, and David Smith obtained our first dual-title PhD in Biology and Astrobiology for his work on microbial life in the stratosphere.

In other good news, I am delighted to report that our effort to retain membership in the NASA Astrobiology Institute was successful. Our Virtual Planetary Laboratory research group was awarded $9.6 million over five years to continue its research into understanding how to recognize signs of habitability and life on extrasolar planets. The VPL award also includes funds for research assistantships for our students and University contributions for administrative and student support for the Astrobiology program.

On the research side of things, our students, researchers, and faculty continue to amaze and excel! Research highlights for this year included work led by then UWAB graduate student Sanjoy Som, who performed the incredibly neat trick of exploring ancient Earth's surface pressure using fossilized raindrops; theoretical work led by UWAB Researcher Dr. Rory Barnes to understand how a star could boil off a planet's ocean using gravitational interaction alone, and a study of isotope data led by grad student Eva Stueeken that pinpointed when life might have first colonized the land surface of our planet. These highlights and more are listed below and displayed on our newly revamped UW Astrobiology Program website.

Looking forward into next year, we will continue to grow the program, adding new participating departments, faculty, and students. We will also work to obtain scholarship funding to offer our students, to augment the basic research assistantships provided by the NASA and UW funding. This will allow us to maintain our competitiveness in attracting the best and brightest young interdisciplinary scientists. Finally, we also plan to offer several public lectures by distinguished and high-profile astrobiologists throughout the year. So stayed tuned for updates on those!

Best wishes for the Holiday Season and a discovery-filled New Year!

Prof. Victoria Meadows

Director, UW Astrobiology Program

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Photo: Prof. Victoria Meadows and a group of UWAB students, in front of the Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. 29 November 2012. From left to right: (Back row) Nicole Evans, Jonathan Bapst, Aomawa Shields, Matt Tilley, Benjamin Vega-Westhoff, Jeff Bowman, Osa Igbinosun, Rodrigo Luger. (Front row) Anna Simpson, Elena Amador, Vikki Meadows, Megan Smith, Giada Arney, Wayne Stewart, Russell Deitrick.

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