Our last year was a productive and exciting one! We graduated five students: Regina Carns (Earth & Space Sciences and Astrobiology), Wolf Clifton (Museology and Astrobiology Certificate), Kelly Hillbun (Earth & Space Sciences and Astrobiology), Amit Misra (Astronomy and Astrobiology), and Meg Smith (Earth and Space Sciences and Astrobiology Certificate). Several of our recent former graduates have received prestigious appointments in the last year: Aomawa Shields (Astronomy & Astrobiology) won dual postdoc appointments at Harvard and UCLA, and was named a 2015 TED Fellow. Mark Claire, former UWAB graduate student in astronomy and VPL postdoc, received a multi-million dollar European Research Council grant to study the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere. Mark thanks the UW Astrobiology Program for giving him “field cred” and his start on isotope geochemistry during his UWAB research rotation! Tyler Robinson (Astronomy & Astrobiology) was awarded a NASA Sagan Fellowship and will work at the University of California at Santa Cruz developing state-of-the-art cloud models for exoplanets. David Smith (Earth and Space Sciences), now at NASA Ames, led the E-MIST balloon mission studying the survival of microbes in the stratosphere.
Mark your calendars! Two noteworthy astrobiology-related events are happening within the next month!
The NASA Astrobiology Debates Western Championship is coming to our backyard on October 17 and 18. The event will be hosted at the University of Washington thanks to the organization of UWAB Professor John Baross. The topic of the debate is "Resolved: An overriding ethical obligation to protect and preserve extraterrestrial microbial life and ecosystems should be incorporated into international law." Click here for more information about this fun event!
UWAB Emeritus Professor Woody Sullivan has been instrumental in organizing "Origins: Life and the Universe", an audiovisual concert about space and life in the universe being held at Benaroya Hall on Saturday November 7 2015at 2pm. Click "Read More" below for more information and a ticket discount code for readers of this newsletter.
2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the Voyager "Pale Blue Dot" image made famous by Carl Sagan. Fittingly, many exciting events related to astrobiology happened this year. On Mars, NASA recently announced the discovery of concentrated salty water in recurring slope lineae (seasonal flows on sloped surfaces). Farther away, New Horizons whizzed by Pluto in July and took the first ever close-up photos of this distant dwarf planet. Pluto may be similar in composition to the cometary material that supplied some of Earth’s water inventory, and New Horizons has shown us that this tiny world is truly amazing and surprising. Even farther out, the number of known exoplanets is now at 1600, while the number of planetary candidates numbers at 3700! To think that just twenty-odd years ago, we only knew of the planets in our solar system..! Our astrobiology workshop this year was at Yellowstone National Park, and the students who attended had an amazing time analyzing the extreme microbes that inhabit the colorful hydrothermal pools. UW astrobiology students are at the forefront of advancing our knowledge of Earth and its biosphere, worlds across our solar system, and distant exoplanets. Here are some of the exciting projects we are tackling right now.
A significant focus of the UW Astrobiology’s graduate program is to provide our students with opportunities for hands-on interdisciplinary research experiences, and in-the-field learning. Our annual workshops are multi-day educational field trips, and are a centerpiece of the interdisciplinary training in our Program.
We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our students and alumni about this component of our curriculum, and many of you have told us that these experiences have been some of the most memorable and valuable aspects of your time in the UWAB program. However, our limited State funding for these workshops means that not all students who are interested in participating in a given field trip are able to do so. This year, we used donations to our Friends of Astrobiology Fund to help support attendance at the workshop. Even a small donation can make a big difference to an individual student, and we are very thankful for your support!
UWAB former grad student Dr. Aomawa Shields (Astronomy & Astrobiology, 2014) is now splitting her time at UCLA and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Aomawa’s research involves the habitability of icy worlds. This year, she was named a TED fellow, and as a classically trained actor, she users her communication skills to teach science to diverse audiences in fun and innovative ways.
UWAB former grad student Dr. David Smith (Biology & Astrobiology, 2012) studied microbes floating in Earth’s stratosphere as a graduate student at UW. Today, he is a Project Scientist at the Space Biosciences Research Division at NASA Ames Research Center. His current research involves sending weather balloons aloft to study how microbial payloads survive near the edge of space.
Besides our Annual Astrobiology Workshop, the UWAB Program encourages, supports, and in many cases organizes educational experiences for astrobiology students in our program and around the world. This year, we went to many places around the globe including Iceland, Australia,Greenland, and Sweden! Read on to discover the places we visited…
UWAB graduate student Giada Arney visited NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to work with VPL researcher and former UWAB postdoc Dr. Shawn Domagal-Goldman in April-June 2015 to work on simulators for a future large space telescope concept that would be able to directly detect and spectrally characterize exoplanets. She reports here on her experience working on ATLAST, the Advanced Technology Large Aperture Space Telescope concept that would be 8-16 meters in diameter!
UWAB graduate Megan Smith went to NASA Ames Research Center to work with VPL researcher Dr. Niki Parenteau. Sheperformed fieldwork analyzing anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria (e.g. purple sulfur bacteria) to understand what gases these organisms produce. Perhaps, in the future, such gases could be detected in the spectra of exoplanets, so it is important to understand and measure what gases are produced and in what quantities.
UWAB graduate students Giada Arney and Eddie Schwieterman competed in the NASA-sponsored Famelab science communication contest during the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Chicago this June. Famelab is an international science communication competition designed to “engage and entertain” by explaining complex scientific concepts in relatable three-minute presentations. The theme of the competition was “Exploring the Earth and Beyond”. Both students advanced to the final round after getting high marks from judges in the preliminary round.
UWAB @ A Glance
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