I am excited to announce that we are currently accepting applications for AbGradCon 2014! This is the 10th annual Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon), an interdisciplinary conference encompassing all fields of astrobiological research. Previous attendees have come from fields as diverse as astronomers, biologists, chemists, educators, engineers, geologists, planetary scientists, and social scientists and is a great opportunity to not only interact with scientists doing similar research, but to become exposed to the diverse research in this field. This conference is organized by and for graduate students and early-career scientists (within two years of graduation) and will be held at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY on July 27 – 31, 2014.
In order to promote interaction amongst early career astrobiologists we strive to provide the majority of funding to U.S. based attendees (and try to support international attendees as much as possible) and give a priority to applicants who have not previously attended an AbGradCon. Graduate students and early-career scientists whose research addresses a topic relevant to astrobiology are encouraged to visit the website for information on the abstract application, funding for US-affiliated participants and more: http://abgradcon.org. Also, find us on Facebook or on saganet.org. Abstracts are due by March 31, 2014.
AbGradCon attendees are also invited to apply for this year’s Research Focus Group, to be held prior to AbGradCon (July 25th - 27th). It’s a fantastic opportunity for anyone interested in pursuing a career in grant-funded science (undergrads, grad students, and post-docs — one and all!). Participants will be grouped with 3 to 4 other Astrobiologists of diverse backgrounds who will work together leading up to and over the course of RFG to write and present a proposal. Participants will then panel-review other proposals, and the winners will be featured in the NAI newsletter. RFG will be located at RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute (DFWI) on Lake George in New York, with meals, lodging, and transportation to and from DFWI provided for all RFG participants.
Calling all Astrobiology grad students and post-docs! Planning for AbGradCon 2014 is well under way. AbGradCon is a conference organized by and for early career astrobiologists, without those pesky P.I.s and professors getting in the way.
This year, the conference will be held at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York from July 27 - July 31.
More information, including our anticipated funding availability and abstract submission instructions, will be coming in early 2014.
The 2014 International Summer School in Astrobiology will be held at the summer campus of the Spanish National University (UIMP), Palacio de la Magdalena, Santander, Spain on June 23-27, 2014.
This year’s theme is “Habitable Environments in the Universe.” The school will provide an interdisciplinary examination of the nature and evaluation of habitability, an environment’s ability to support life. Topics to be covered will include life’s requirements and the limits of life, the factors that affect habitability for local and global environments, and potentially habitable environments in our Solar System and on extrasolar planets.
The school includes a week of lectures from international experts, round-table discussions, student projects, and a field trip to a nearby site of astrobiological interest. On-site accommodation and all meals are provided.
The application deadline will be February 28, 2014 for NAI student travel scholarships, and students of any nationality studying at a US institution are eligible. These scholarships cover travel costs, school fees, accommodation and meals.
The activities of our global civilization are now intertwined with the evolution of the Earth system. Human civilization will face many challenges as it adapts to a rapidly changing world, and the result of many critical decisions today will have a lasting impact on generations to come. Predicting the direction of these future changes will require an understanding of the very longterm consequences of humanity’s current actions on our planet. As we step deeper into the “anthropocene”, an era defined by the global impact of human activities, and continue to improve our technology, our success as a civilization will depend on our ability to prepare for an uncertain future.
The Blue Marble Space Institute of Science invites participants to address this theme by responding to the question: In the next 100 years, how can human civilization prepare for the longterm changes to the Earth system that will occur over the coming millennium? The purpose of the essay contest is to stimulate creative thinking relating to space exploration and global issues by exploring how changes in the Earth system will affect humanity’s future.
Junior/Senior undergrads and first year grad students:
NASA Ames Academy is a Diverse Summer Program that Focuses on Leadership, Team Building, and Provides Direct Contact with NASA Research in Advanced Science and Engineering. The 10-week summer Academy, for undergraduates and graduate students, runs from the 2nd week of June through the third week of August. Transportation and housing will be provided byNASA in addition to a $4k stipend from your Space Grant for the summer.
Launched in 1971 by HolgerJannasch, the Microbial Diversity summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory has trained generations of scientists from diverse backgrounds. The course is an intense immersion experience for 20 students that lasts 6.5 weeks. The goal of the course is to teach professors, postdocs and advanced graduate students how to discover, cultivate, and isolate diverse microorganisms catalyzing a breadth of chemical transformations, as well as how to perform molecular and computational analyses relevant to their study. While microbial isolation techniques form the essential core of the course, each new set of directors brings an additional focus that reflects their interests/expertise. Starting in 2014, we will introduce basic genetic methods that will enable students to study how microbes catalyze particularly interesting reactions, as well as state-of-the-art imaging techniques that detect gene-expression in single cells. Genetically-tractable strains isolated in the course will be sequenced by Pacific Biosystems, and students will learn how to annotate and analyze their genomes. Given the wealth of DNA, RNA and protein sequences now available from isolated microbes and environmental samples, these tools are important for students to gain so they may understand what these sequences mean and in which context they are expressed—be it in the marine environment, soils, or plant and animal hosts. We will also emphasize quantitative approaches to microbial diversity, including teaching students how to describe the energetic potential of diverse metabolisms and how to best use statistics in their studies. Through joint-seminars with the Physiology course, we will expose students to how physical principles and methods can be applied to study microbial cell biology. In addition to the emphasis on practical training, numerous visitors and guest-lecturers participate in the course every summer, allowing students to be exposed to exciting current research. The opportunity to interact one-on-one with these individuals is a tremendous opportunity, often leading to future collaborations.
This annual contest, co-sponsored by NASA Ames and the National Space Society (NSS) is for all students up to 12th grade (18 years old) from anywhere in the world. Individuals, small teams of two to five, and large teams of six or more are judged separately. Entries are also grouped by age/grade of the oldest contestant for judging. The age groups are 7th and under, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th. The grand prize is awarded to the best entry regardless of contestant age. Students develop space settlement designs and related materials. These are sent to NASA Ames for judgement. Submissions must be received by March 1.
In a modern scientific paper, if you cruise past the Materials and Methods section and stop right before you hit the References, youll find the Acknowledgments section, wherein authors are given space to thank others for their contributions to the project. It is generally accepted that this paragraph is ignored…
New Study Brings Scientists Closer to the Origin of RNA
One of the biggest questions in science is how life arose from the chemical soup that existed on early Earth. One theory is that RNA, a close relative of DNA, was the first genetic molecule to arise around 4 billion years ago, but in a primitive form that later evolved into the RNA and DNA molecules that we have in life today. New research shows one way this chain of events might have started.
Oil is made when marine plants and animals die, and then fall to the bottom of the ocean. There they are decomposed by bacteria. This process removes most of the oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur from the dearly departed, and leaves behind a mix of carbon and hydrogen. Decomposition slows as the oxygen is removed and sedimentation typically covers the carbon hydrogen mix. After the mix is covered by approximately 10,000 feet it is subjected pressure and heat that converts the mix into hydrocarbons (along with some other chemicals that contain natural gas.) Typically, outside of the lab, temperature and amount of time it is applied determine the type of petroleum formed—either a thick, sludgy asphalt, or a lighter, more productive petroleum—however, temperatures exceeding 500 °F destroys the organic material and nothing is produced.
Now that we know how it happens naturally – engineers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have managed to recreate this with slight changes in the lab. (That’s how engineers are, they can’t leave anything alone.) The process in the lab uses 3,000 PSI, and 662 °F. This mimics the processes in the earth called hydrothermal liquefaction and catalytic hydrothermal gasification. The experiment is only 50-70% efficient because no decomposition vector has been used to extract the gasses; however, the experiment yields the clean water, and nutrients needed to regrow algae (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) making it a seemingly repeatable cycle. The engineers pour harvested algae (containing as much as 90% water) into the system and then allow it to run. That’s it. The system puts out crude oil, clean water, fuel gas, and nutrients. The system that the engineers built (known as the PNNL system) runs continuously processing 1.5L of algae per hour.
read more while I freeze my ass off and wait for maintenance ;)
I feel very lucky to be a biologist where 50% of the field is female. It’s honestly why I decided against pursuing a computer science degree. I just didn’t want to deal with male dominated geek culture all day. And that reality is pretty sad.
Here is an excellent video describing the frustration of a female science vlogger on the lack of representation of STEM women in Internet videos, as well as the way the women who do venture into this field are treated.
Incidentally, I was part of a webinar last night with some NASA people talking about how we want to revamp the “ask an astrobiologist” website. We might start including video casts from some of the early-career astrobiologists (like me).
I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about the prospect, not only because of the points that Emily (above) raises, but because I’ve discovered that I really don’t like talking to a box that doesn’t respond when you talk to it.
But I might give it a try, and/or I might post some videos on here as a practice. What do you guys think?