Can science explain the origin of life?
We’re working on it…
Can science explain the origin of life?
We’re working on it…
“If you’re going to spend money on an open bar instead of childcare for graduate students, you should rethink what you’re doing.” – Jonathan Eisen
"Researchers from the BICEP2 collaboration today announced the first direct evidence for this cosmic inflation. Their data also represent the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang." Finally, the data confirm a deep connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity."
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) will host a press conference at 12:00 noon EDT (16:00 UTC) on Monday, March 17th, to announce a major discovery.
Video of the press conference will be streamed live beginning at 11:55 a.m. EDT from the link at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/news_conferences.html
Reporters watching remotely can ask questions of the participants by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The e-mail should include the reporter’s name and affiliation.
The press conference will take place at Phillips Auditorium, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, Mass. Reporters who want to attend in person should contact Christine Pulliam at email@example.com or +1 617-495-7463. If you will need a parking pass, please include your license plate number.
RNA World 2.0
Most scientists believe that ribonucleic acid played a key role in the origin of life on Earth, but the versatile molecule isn’t the whole story.
The ubiquity and diverse functionality of ribonucleic acid (RNA) in today’s world suggest that the information polymer could well have been the leading player early on in the establishment of life on Earth, and, in theory, it’s a logical basis for primitive life. One can readily imagine that RNA, as a catalytic molecule capable of serving as a template for its own replication, might have reproduced itself and grown exponentially in the primordial environment. Perhaps such an RNA-based proto–life-form even replicated with an appropriate level of fidelity to allow natural selection to begin directing its evolution.
Here is a FANTASTIC article on the current state of research on the RNA World and the biochemical origin of life. And it stars some of my favorite RNA researchers, Niles Lehman, Nick Hud, and Jack Szostak! Give it a read!
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.
Organic chemistry class would have been a lot more fun with diagrams like this.
An MIT physicist has proposed the provocative idea that life exists because the law of increasing entropy drives matter to acquire lifelike physical properties.
AbGradCon 2014, July 27 - 31st in Troy, New York!
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.
Application deadline: April 22
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.
Application deadline Feb. 15!!!
Grad students and postdocs:
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.
Application deadline Feb. 3!!!