2012 Annual Science Report

VPL at University of Washington Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: VPL Team Group EPO Report

Project Progress

Over the past year, the VPL team of university faculty, staff, and postdocs; government researchers; graduate students; undergraduates; and community partners have undertaken a wide variety of education and public outreach efforts. Our researchers have given talks to groups with a wide range of demographics and at very different locations including members of the Yakima Nation in rural Washington State and villagers in Coahuila Mexico, high school children in classes learning about astrobiology in the US and Mexico, through to anyone with a radio, television, or internet connection – reaching children as young as three and retirees in their eighties.

Similarly, the venues and media for our efforts are highly diverse. VPL scientists have volunteered at school science and career fairs. Graduate students have visited local classrooms and welcomed pre-college students into their labs at the University of Washington. Senior faculty members have taught astrobiology courses to non-science undergraduates, mentored graduate student teaching assistants in the area of teaching astrobiology, and given well-attended public lectures on astrobiology. And many of our team members have contributed to high-profile events and projects around the country, including visitors’ programs at NASA research centers and the development of popular iPad applications (“Journey to the Exoplanets”) released September 2011).

Highlights from our activities this year include:

(1) Partnering with a teacher from Lakewood High School (Arlington, WA) to develop a pre-college astrobiology course and host 30 high school students on the University of Washington campus for a three-hour demonstration by students and faculty of the astrobiology research underway at UW.
(Victoria Meadows – Professor and VPL Principal Investigator; University of Washington)
(2) Collaborative efforts with the local and state government in Coahuila, Mexico as they opened a molecular biology lab in the Cuatro Ciénegas high school (Janet Siefert – Professor). VPL research at Cuatro Cienegas was also written up in Discovery News:
(3) VPL participation in outreach event at Toppenish (WA) organized by the WA Nasa Space grant, and with the participation of Pacific Science Center. The event was organized in coordination with Yakama Nation leaders, tailored to families, middle and high school students from the Yakama Nation (Marcela Ewert-Sarmiento – graduate student).
(4) Public talks on the Habitabilty of Mars, and the astrobiological implications of the Venus Transit given at the University of Washington by Pan Conrad and Victoria Meadows. These two talks attracted over 700 members of the public.
(5) Búsqueda y Caracterización de Exoplanetas Habitables (Search and characterization of habitable exoplanets) a talk given at the Conference On Life in the Universe at the Colegio Menor de San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, with an audience of 250 high school students.
(6) VPL Grad Student Aomawa Shields made it to the finals in the FameLab competition for communication of astrobiology to a general audience, and won the Audience Choice Award in Atlanta.
(7) VPL Participation in the Scientific American iPad book, “Journey to the Exoplanets”
Several VPL scientists (Kasting, Kiang, Segura) consulted for a Scientific American iPad app, an e-Book titled, “Journey to the Exoplanets.” The app was launched September 14, 2011 and as written up in Astrobiology Magazine. Following its release…Journey to the Exoplanets has been selected as the iPad app of the week on iTunes, hit #1 on the International iPad Book App list, and was selected as one of the ‘10 Coolest Book Apps for Fall’ by USA Today. The iPad app is meant to provide everyone from backyard astronomers to science buffs with a ‘hands-on experience’ of exoplanet exploration’, according to Scientific American magazine.

In addition, VPL team members talked to members of the media about several high-profile science results including the Archean Raindrops, Tidal Venuses, the the Limits of Oxygenic Photosynthesis, and were interviewed for numerous television productions on exoplanets.