2009 Annual Science Report

VPL at University of Washington Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

AbGradCon 2009

Project Summary

The Astrobiology Graduate Student Conference (AbGradCon) was held on the UW campus July 17 – 20 2009. AbGradCon supports NAI’s mission to carry out, support and catalyze collaborative, interdisciplinary research, train the next generation of astrobiology researchers, provide scientific and technical leadership on astrobiology investigations for current and future space missions, and explore new approaches using modern information technology to conduct interdisciplinary and collaborative research amongst widely-distributed investigators. This was done through a diverse range of activities, ranging from formal talks and poster sessions to free time for collaboration-enabling discussions, social activities, web 2.0 conference extensions, public outreach and grant writing simulations.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
6 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The Astrobiology Graduate Student Conference (AbGradCon) was held on the UW campus July 17 – 20 2009. AbGradCon supports NAI’s mission to carry out, support and catalyze collaborative, interdisciplinary research, train the next generation of astrobiology researchers, provide scientific and technical leadership on astrobiology investigations for current and future space missions, and explore new approaches using modern information technology to conduct interdisciplinary and collaborative research amongst widely-distributed investigators. This was done through a diverse range of activities, ranging from formal talks and poster sessions to free time for collaboration-enabling discussions, social activities, web 2.0 conference extensions, public outreach and grant writing simulations.

AbGradCon was organized by a group of UW Astrobiology graduate students, and attracted 67 participants from 8 countries coming from 34 different institutions. It was immediately followed by a Research Focus Workshop (RFG) on July 20 – 22 at Pack Forrest (A UW owned facility). AbGradCon hosted 39 talks and 28 posters over two days, brought participants to the Mt. Saint Helens Volcanic Monument for a day long excursion, and encouraged collaboration by providing time for free discussion.

The specific goals of the RFG were to enhance the ability of early-career astrobiologists to think in a genuinely interdisciplinary way when generating ideas for new research, as well as to improve their skills in writing effective grant proposals and in critically reviewing proposals made by others. It was an intensive two-day simulation of a grant submission and funding process. Participants were put into groups of 3 or 4 people, all with different specialty areas and from different institutions, and had to write an interdisciplinary astrobiological research proposal together. Each group presented their proposal orally to the entire workshop, which then discussed it. The participating groups also had to provide a written review of the proposals from two other groups. Finally, at the end of the workshop, an anonymous ballot was held to determine which proposals were viewed as the best by the RFG participants.

Among its most novel aspects, AbGradCon 2009 was simultaneously held in the virtual world of Second Life. Second Life is an online 3D world where participants connect through their avatars (virtual person) and are able to interact and participate with each other in a virtual setting. Talks were streamed live into a specially designed virtual conference facility, and all posters were likewise displayed. This allowed guests not able to travel to Seattle to participate as much as possible with the AbGradCon participants. In Second Life, live video and audio from the Seattle meeting room presentations were streamed into an amphitheatre and during the poster session video was shown overhead on a “JumboTron.” In a similar way, in Seattle images from Second Life were projected on a large screen during the poster session and in the meeting rooms where talks were held.

For the first time, a public event was officially part of the AbGradCon program. An evening public debate entitled “Battle of the Goddesses: Gaia vs. Medea” was organized. The event was very well attended with approximately 150 people from the general public attending. It was also broadcast through Second Life. The debate was followed by an “ask an astrobiologist” reception, where AbGradCon attendees were encouraged to interact with the general public with finger food and drinks.

  • PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:
    Sanjoy Som Sanjoy Som
    Project Investigator
  • PROJECT MEMBERS:
    Rika Anderson
    Co-Investigator

    Michele Cash
    Co-Investigator

    Mark Claire
    Co-Investigator

    Nick Cowan
    Co-Investigator

    Marcela Ewert-Sarmiento
    Co-Investigator

    Aaron Goldman
    Co-Investigator

    Darci Snowden
    Co-Investigator

    Eva Stüeken
    Co-Investigator

  • RELATED OBJECTIVES:
    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 1.2
    Indirect and direct astronomical observations of extrasolar habitable planets.

    Objective 2.1
    Mars exploration.

    Objective 2.2
    Outer Solar System exploration

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 3.2
    Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules

    Objective 3.3
    Origins of energy transduction

    Objective 3.4
    Origins of cellularity and protobiological systems

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere.

    Objective 4.2
    Production of complex life.

    Objective 4.3
    Effects of extraterrestrial events upon the biosphere

    Objective 5.1
    Environment-dependent, molecular evolution in microorganisms

    Objective 5.2
    Co-evolution of microbial communities

    Objective 5.3
    Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments

    Objective 6.1
    Effects of environmental changes on microbial ecosystems

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth

    Objective 7.1
    Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials

    Objective 7.2
    Biosignatures to be sought in nearby planetary systems