2009 Annual Science Report

University of Wisconsin Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

EPO Activity: E/PO - Astrobiology Night at the Ballpark

Project Progress

On June 5th, WARC E/PO sponsored “Astrobiology Night at the Ballpark” at the local minor league field of the Madison Mallards Baseball team. The night featured a variety of informal education activities to expose members of the general public to NAI WARC team research. In total, 6252 people came through the gates that night.

As fans entered the park, volunteers passed out 1,000 sets of “Life in the Extremes” trading cards. [FIGURE 1 – students passing out trading cards] Each pack contained nine cards, each of which featured a different extremophile group (e.g. halophiles, thermophiles, barophiles). [FIGURE 2 – trading cards PDF]. In the spirit of baseball trading cards, the front of the card has a picture while the back has more detailed “stats” on the microbes.

After making it through the gates, visitors to the park that night had the chance to learn about our team’s work at four different tables staffed by WARC scientists and UW Geology Museum volunteers. * At the “Build a BIF” table, WARC graduate students and post docs showed off pieces of banded iron formation and did a demo of how these unique rocks form. [FIGURE 3 – visitors learn about how banded iron formation forms] * “The Original X-philes” highlighted extremophiles using a “How Extreme Are You?” challenge where people could taste the salinity of three different waters: tap water, ocean water, and hypersaline water. WARC graduate and undergraduate students and Co-I Eric Roden staffed this table. [FIGURE 4 – girl trying hypersaline water] * The “Respect Your Elders” table featured touchable fossil stromatolite mounds and a microbial high-rise where visitors could learn about the complex microbial communities found in stromatolites and Winogradsky columns. [FIGURE 5 – learning about microbial high-rises] * “Time… is on my Mind” addressed geologic dating and earths oldest rocks including a large piece of Morton Gneiss, a 3.6 billion year old rock from Minnesota. WARC graduate students and Co-I John Valley worked here. [FIGURE 6 – Co-I John Valley at earth’s oldest rocks table].

We invited two other science outreach organizations to join us this night at the ballpark. UW Space Place (University of Wisconsin’s space outreach facility) brought telescopes and did some stargazing with fans. The Madison Badger Bots, a high school robotics team, set up robotics demos in the off-field areas where visitors could interact with them and learn about how robots are designed.

Once seated and before the game started, two NASA videos were played on the field’s video board. “Phoenix – A Tribute” and “Looking for Life in All the Right Places” were chosen to give context to the work that our researchers are doing. Incidentally, WARC Co-I Max Coleman is featured in “Looking for Life in All the Right Places.”

To kick off the game, Co-I Eric Roden threw out the first pitch with the rest of the research team out at the mound with him. [FIGURE 7 – Co-I Eric Roden throws out the first pitch] The Madison Badger Bots built a special remote-controlled rover to deliver the ball to Eric out at the mound (seen to the left in Fig. 7).

During the second inning break, we had an “aliens vs. kids” tug of war along the third base line (the announcer emphasized that these were not the kinds of aliens our team is looking for!). [FIGURE 8 – tug of war start]. Team mascot Millie the Mallard called the win for the kids who all received JPL Mars Balls as a thanks for participating. [FIGURE 9 – Tug of War ends]

As a final give-away for the night, green flying saucer frisbees with an astrobiology timeline on it were thrown into the stands by the team mascots and ballpark workers. These had links to the NAI website as well as alienearths.org as places to go for more information about astrobiology.