University of Washington Astrobiology Program

Fall 2014

A Word From The Director

Dear Astrobiology Enthusiasts,

Goose barnacles on mooring buoy This year was certainly a productive one for training the next generation of astrobiologists! Since last Spring we graduated Aomawa Shields and Amit Misra with Dual-Title PhDs in Astronomy and Astrobiology, Eva Stueeken and Tom Tobin with Dual-Title PhDs in Earth and Space Sciences and Astrobiology and Jeff Bowman with a Dual-Title PhD in Astrobiology and Oceanography. Several of our graduates left us for institutions such as Columbia University (Jeff), Harvard (Aomawa) and Caltech (Kyle Costa). Eva and Rika both won NASA Astrobiology Institute Postdoctoral Fellowships and now split their research time between UW and other institutions, so we still see them often! In the “new faces” department, we welcomed Prof. Fang-Zhen Teng (ESS) to the Astrobiology Faculty, and applauded as Dr. Rory Barnes was promoted to Prof. Rory Barnes, also joining the UWAB Faculty. We also welcomed six new students to the Astrobiology Program:  Aaron Brewer, Chloe Hart, Michael Kipp and Steven Sholes from ESS, Max Showalter fromOceanography, and Jacob Lustig-Yaeger from Astronomy.  

Our students, researchers and faculty continue to excel! Highlights of our many scientific publications this year can be found in the Newsletter sidebar. Our community’s research this year included understanding the history and present-day habitability of Mars, with modeling work, and laboratory experiments on some spectacular “amorphous” brine ice, that could help to preserve life, rather than destroying it. Our paleo-Earth researchers are also homing in on the environment and conditions for life on the early Earth, and our exoplaneteers displayed a distinct focus on habitability and oxygen on extrasolar planets. In particular, we are leading the field in understanding the ways a planet’s interaction with its star can fool us into thinking there’s life there. But being forewarned is forearmed, and our community is working on ways to use our improved understanding to identify the best measurements and planetary systems in which to search for life.

UWAB community members also won two of the three prestigious NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellowships awarded nationwide this year. UWAB graduate Dr. Eva Stueeken won her fellowship to work on using zinc isotopes to investigate the importance of ancient lakes for the early evolution of life, working with Prof. Roger Buick here at UW. Incoming NAI NPP postdoc Dr. Benjamin Charnay won his fellowship to work with UWAB Director Prof. Victoria Meadows (Astronomy) and UWAB faculty member Prof. David Catling (ESS) and he will focus on modeling the cloudy or hazy atmospheres of the early Earth and exoplanets. Along with last year’s NAI NPP recipients Dr. Rika Anderson and Dr. Jon Toner, the UW Astrobiology community has now won 4 of the 8 NAI NPP Postdoctoral Fellowships awarded in the last two years!

Although our faculty and researchers have been very successful in securing research funding for our program, we still face considerable challenges in obtaining funding for program needs that cannot be covered by federal research grants or State education funding. These include funds and scholarships for student recruitment, as we often compete for our students with wealthier institutions such as Harvard and Caltech. We also need graduate scholarships to support interdisciplinary exploration by our students; additional support for student participation in our highly-acclaimed astrobiology workshops, and funds to bring speakers to the UW for our colloquia and public events. Please consider making a donation to support the Program!

We will continue to offer our Astrobiology Colloquium Series in Spring and Fall of 2015, with cutting edge astrobiology research presented by visiting and local experts. These presentations are pitched to be accessible to an interdisciplinary audience. Select talks in this series are webcast and recorded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and can be viewed live on your web-browser, or the recordings can be accessed at any time later (instructions on how to join in are provided in the Newsletter sidebar).

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

Prof. Victoria Meadows
Director, UW Astrobiology Program

Photo: Jacob Lustig-Yeager (Astronomy & Astrobiology) pointing out goose barnacles on a mooring buoy aboard the UW Research Vessel, the Tommy G. Thompson.

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