Tuesday, June 23, 2015

NASA and University Researchers Discuss the Search for Life in the Solar System & Beyond at AbSciCon 2015

Image taken from the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap

Last week, at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Chicago, NASA convened a press briefing to feature some of the lead figures within the realm of astrobiology and to promote discussion of what we're doing right now in astrobiology as well as what will be coming next. You can find the video of that briefing at the bottom of this post!

The panel for the briefing consisted of the following four people:

-John Grunsfeld, former astronaut and now Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters

-Alexis Templeton, Principal Investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Rock-Powered Life team

-Britney Schmidt, Principal Investigator for the NASA-funded project Sub-Ice Marine and Planetary Analog Ecosystems (SIM

-Vikki Meadows, Principal Investigator at the University of Washington's Virtual Planetary Laboratory

Left to right: Vikki Meeadows, Britney Scmidt, and Alexis Templeton. Image posted to Twitter by NASA NExSS

I've never met John Grunsfeld in person, but I love the energy and enthusiasm he presents when he talks. I have met Vikki Meadows, Britney Schmidt, and Alexis Templeton. They are impressive researchers and wonderful people. 

Britney and Alexis are especially kick-ass women. Britney has quickly climbed to fame within the sciences as a lead expert on the icy worlds of our solar system. She's travelled to Antarctica to study icy analog environments and a paper that she authored in the journal Nature in 2011 rocked icy-worlds research with the conclusion that the chaos regions on Europa may be caused by shallow subsurface fluids

I was abundantly overjoyed to see Alexis Templeton on the panel. She's one of the most renowned researchers in the realm of geobiology, she knows more about the connections between microorganisms and the variety of environments present on the Earth than anyone else I've ever met, and she is my graduate research advisor! Here's a picture of Alexis and I taken by John Spear while we were working at our field site, Borup Fiord Pass, in the Canadian High Arctic during the summer of 2014:

Alexis has been involved in many research projects that seek to characterize the myriad ways that microorganisms interrelate with their environments. Research that has been conducted in her lab over the years has included looking at the microbial alteration of basalt on the seafloor, characterizing metal oxidation by microbes in the depths of the Earth, and working on our NASA-funded project to understand microbial sulfur cycling and the formation of sulfur biosignatures at an Arctic analog to icy extraterrestrial environments. 

Most recently, Alexis has become the Principle Investigator of a team that goes by the handle Rock-Powered Life (RPL). This team, funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, seeks to characterize the pathways through which water and rock can react to form the simplest ingredients for living processes on Earth. They're also considering what these reactions mean for the habitability of extraterrestrial environments, such as those in the subsurface oceans of Europa and Enceladus. 

The NASA press briefing last week went very well. All of the members of the panel gave fantastic introductions to what we're doing right now in astrobiology to better understand life on Earth and the potential for life in our solar system and beyond! I highly recommend checking out the briefing video below:

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