News From Our Alumni – Fall 2014

Our list of alumni continues to grow as seven more graduates join the ranks. As of Fall 2014, we are proud to have trained 34 astrobiologists! We checked in with some of our alumni recently to hear what they’ve been up to:

Mark Claire (PhD Astronomy & Certificate in Astrobiology, 2008) now has his new lab up and running at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He still welcomes visitors who like whisky, golf, and/or biogeochemistry. You can find out more about the lab on Mark’s blog. Mark also has a new paper in Geochemica et Cosmochemica Acta on using a photochemical model to testing formation mechanisms for S MIF in the Archean.

Eric Collins (PhD Oceanography & Certificate in Astrobiology, 2009) is now an Assistant Professor of Biological Oceanography in the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This spring he completed a ski trip across Greenland to collect samples of snow for the Greenland Ice Microbiome Project (

Jesse Colangelo-Lillis (MS Oceanography & Certificate in Astrobiology, 2012) is still working on a PhD at McGill University as part of the Canadian Astrobiology Training Program. His work focuses on microbial communities in the high Arctic and the role of extreme environments on microbial sulfur fractionation that can serve as biomarkers.

Nick Cowan (PhD Astronomy & Certificate in Astrobiology, 2009)is now an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Amherst College.

Shawn Domagal-Goldman (UWAB Postdoc now at Goddard Space Flight Center) recently published his postdoc work here at UW on the generation of false positive ozone signatures in pre-biotic atmospheres under different UV fluxes.  See the sidebar for more details of this work. 

Ty Robinson (Dual-title PhD Astronomy and Astrobiology, 2012)continues as NASA Ames NPP with Dr. Mark Marley, and recently published a paper using Titan solar occultations as seen by Cassini as a real world analog for transit transmission spectroscopy of hazy exoplanets.  

Aomawa Shields (Dual-title PhD Astronomy and Astrobiolog, 2014) was recently named a 2015 TED Fellow. She will be attending the TED conference held March 16-20, 2015 in Vancouver, BC , and giving a TED talk on the TED Fellows stage. Congratulations Aomawa!

David Smith (Dual-titlePhD Biology and Astrobiology, 2012) is working at the Kennedy Space Center and leads a team of scientists and engineers flying balloon payloads that expose microorganisms to the stratosphere and monitor their responses.  

Ken Williford (PhD Earth & Space Sciences & Certificate in Astrobiology, 2007) recently accepted the Deputy Project Scientist Position for the Mars 2020 mission at JPL. Congratulations Ken!! When he’s not working on the Mars missions, he runs JPL’s Astrobiogeochemistry Laboratory (abcLab) studying ancient biosignatures.

Mark Claire's Lab at St. Andrews

Photo 1: Mark Claire’s lab at University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Photo 2: Eric Collins skiing across Greenland.

Photo 3: Ballon payloads

Photo 4: JPL’s Astrobiogeochemistry Laboratory (abcLab)