2010 Annual Science Report

Georgia Institute of Technology Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

EPO Activity: Life on the Edge: Astrobiology

Project Progress

The Georgia Tech Team ran a one-week, non-residential summer enrichment program, Life on the Edge: Astrobiology, for 24 high school students from the Atlanta metro area, Texas, and Oregon. The Team recruited three high school teachers from DeKalb County School System, one of the most diverse systems in the state of Georgia serving over 100,000 students; 75% are African American, 8% Hispanic, and 66% qualify for free and reduced lunch. In an effort to promote and encourage entry into teaching career, the GT Team pair high school Biology and Chemistry teachers in the Georgia Intern Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT) Program with two Georgia Tech undergraduate students in biology and biomedical engineering through the NSF sponsored “Tech to Teaching” Program. The teachers and undergraduate students collaborated to develop and conduct a week-long astrobiology summer enrichment program, aligned with the Georgia Performance Standards in Biology, for high school students interested in science. The teachers and the undergraduate student developed the student and teacher guides for the camp in the Team member’s laboratories, as well as pre and post tests and attitudinal surveys of the students. Life on the Edge provided the teachers and the GT undergraduates with the opportunity to learn about astrobiology and about how to develop an Astrobiology summer enrichment program.

The scientific focus of the program was life in extreme environments. The diverse group of high school students (Figure 1) explored astrobiology and chemical evolution though engaging, hands-on activities. Basic biology concepts were reviewed in an astrobiology context to illustrate the adaptation and survival of various types of extremophiles. Each student used biological techniques such as genomic DNA purification, gel electrophoresis, and manual Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) (Figure 3) to show how technology is used by astrobiology researchers. Some of the other week-long activities included: growing extremophiles (Figure 3), desiccating rotifers, astrobiology and extremophiles scavenger hunt (Figure 2) around Georgia Tech’s campus, and a project / final presentation involving a trip to a planet or moon that may have life.