1. NAI Newsletter 2013-10-23

    October 23, 2013 Issue

    There’s No Shutting Down the Astrobiology Strategy Process!
    NAI CAN Cycle 7 Due Dates Extended
    NAI Director’s Seminar: The Puzzle of Low-Density Super-Earths, October 28
    Grand Opening of Biosignatures Exhibit at the University of Wisconsin
    Mars 2020 Announcement of Opportunity
    AbSciCon 2014 Postponed until 2015
    Workshop on the Habitability of Icy Worlds
    Origins 2014
    International Workshop on Education in Astrobiology

    Mars Rover Provides Clues to Mars’ Past Atmosphere
    New Evidence for a Martian Ocean
    Water on Moon’s Surface Hints at Water Below
    Solar System’s Youth Gives Clues to Planet Search
    Exploring the World of Life Underground
    Ancient Snowfall on Mars
    Ice and Extrasolar Planet Climate
    Serpentinization of Ocean Crust: Life’s Mother Engine?

    Calling all Early Career Scientists! Passionate about Science? Love to Communicate?
    Postdoctoral Opportunity at Yale University (Geology and Geophysics)
    Postdoctoral Opportunities at Harvard University (Origins of Life Initiative)
    NASA Seeks America’s Best and Brightest for Space Technology Research Fellowships


    There’s No Shutting Down the Astrobiology Strategy Process!

    A message from the Astrobiology Program:

    Betcha didn’t know that the unofficial motto of NASA’s Astrobiology Program was “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of Congressional paralysis stays these scientists from the swift completion of their appointed webinars” ;-)

    Although NASA was shutdown, the Astrobiology Strategy webinars continued through the great work of Andy Burnett and the folks at KnowInnovation! Thanks so much for keeping us from losing too much momentum.

    The webinars that occurred during the shutdown were recorded and we encourage you to view them via the astrobiologyfuture.org website. The schedule of up-coming webinars is also posted there.

    We realize that other civil servants may not have been able to participate and that the altered schedule and format may have excluded others. However, the webinars are only intended as a kick-off to open discussion on a concept paper and to give the community a sense of the thought processes that led to the current form of the document. For those of you that missed the webinars it’s not too late to add your voice to our conversation about the future directions of astrobiology research. We encourage everyone to review the concept documents, comment on them, and participate in the discussion about them.

    Once again, thanks to KnowInnovation and all the webinar attendees and participants who kept the astrobiology fires burning while we civil servants were restrained from working. Onward!

    Michael New

    NAI CAN Cycle 7 Due Dates Extended

    On September 23, 2013 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate released a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) soliciting team-based proposals for membership in the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). The CAN-7 document can be downloaded from the NSPIRES web page.

    Please note that, due to the government shutdown, the proposal due dates for Step-1 and Step-2 proposal have changed.

    The Step-1 proposal due date is changed from November 4, 2013 to November 18, 2013. The Step-2 proposal due date is changed from January 31, 2014 to February 19, 2014.

    Solicitation Number: NNH13ZDA017C
    Step 1 Proposal Due: November 18, 2013
    Step 2 Proposals Due: February 19, 2014

    A pre-proposal conference was held on September 30, at 11 AM PDT (2 PM EDT) to provide interested parties with the opportunity to better understand the intent, scope, and selection criteria of this CAN. The recorded video and presentation charts from this briefing are available at the NSPIRES website on which this CAN is posted.

    Programmatic questions regarding this solicitation should be submitted in writing or via E-mail no later than 10 days prior to the proposal due date to:

    Dr. Mary Voytek
    Senior Scientist for Astrobiology/ NAI Program Scientist
    Science Mission Directorate NASA Headquarters
    300 E Street SW Washington, DC 20546
    Phone: (202) 358-1577
    E-mail: CAN7@nasa.gov

    Note that where appropriate, questions and answers will be made publicly available at the web site on which this CAN is posted. It is the responsibility of interested proposers to check for such information prior to the submission of their proposals.

    NAI Director’s Seminar

    The Puzzle of Low-Density Super-Earths

    Please make a note on your calendar to join us for the first NAI Director’s Seminar for Fall 2013.

    Title: The Puzzle of Low-Density Super-Earths
    Presenter: Raymond Pierrehumbert, University of Chicago
    When: October 28, 2013 11AM PDT

    The dawning era of exoplanet exploration has yielded up many surprises in the form of classes of planets that have no counterpart in our own Solar System. In this talk, I will discuss a class that I refer to as “gas midgets,” which consist of planets in the Super-Earth range of masses or radii, but which have densities so low that most of the planet’s mass must be in the form of volatiles.

    For more information go to http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/seminars/featured-seminar-channels/nai-directors-seminar-series/2013/10/28/the-puzzle-of-low-density-super-earths/

    Mars 2020 Announcement of Opportunity

    Solicitation Number: NNH13ZDA018O
    Release Date: September 24, 2013
    Preproposal Conference: October 28, 2013
    Notice of Intent Due Date: November 4, 2013
    Proposal Due Date: January 15, 2014

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has released an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) entitled Mars 2020 Investigations to solicit proposals for investigations for a space flight mission to Mars, to be launched in July/August 2020.

    The full text of the AO and any appendices are available electronically at the NSPIRES website. Links to the AO and additional information about the intent and the capabilities of the Mars 2020 rover are located at the Mars 2020 Acquisition Website.

    Investigations comprised of individual instruments or multiple instruments (suites) may respond to the overall Mars 2020 objectives to explore and quantitatively assess Mars as a potential habitat for life, to search for signs of past life, to collect carefully selected samples for possible future return to Earth, and to prepare for future human exploration of Mars.

    The Mars 2020 Investigations AO solicits flight investigations for which each Principal Investigator is responsible for a complete space flight investigation, including instrument hardware, mission operations, and data analysis. Although individual PI-managed instrument science investigations do not have a predetermined cost cap, the total allocated cost for all the SMD-funded investigations selected is approximately $100M in Real Year (RY) dollars for Phases A through D. Additional funding of approximately $60M RY is allocated for investigation in Phase E. Additionally, exploration technology investigations, jointly funded by the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) and Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) may be selected at a total cost of approximately $30M in RY dollars, including Phase E costs. The total payload resources, including mass, power, and data for the instrument complement, will be provided in a Payload Information Package (PIP) posted to the Mars 2020 Acquisition Website. Note that the Mars 2020 Investigations AO may contain provisions that differ from this notice, in which case those in the AO will take precedence.

    Participation in this AO is open to all categories of organizations (U.S. and non-U.S.), including educational, industrial, and not-for-profit organizations, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, University Affiliated Research Centers, NASA Centers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and other Government agencies. Principal Investigators are responsible for, and may assemble their investigation teams from, any of these organizations.

    A preproposal conference is scheduled for October 28, 2013, via video/teleconference from Washington, DC. Notices of Intent (NOIs) are required and are due November 4, 2013. Proposals are due January 15, 2014.

    Contracting Office Address:
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters Acquisition Branch, Code 210.H, Greenbelt, MD 20771

    Point of Contact:
    Dr. Mitchell D. Schulte
    Program Scientist, Mars 2020
    Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate
    Telephone: (202) 358-2127
    Fax: (202) 358-3097
    E-mail: mars2020-ao@lists.nasa.gov

    Grand Opening of Biosignatures Exhibit at the University of Wisconsin

    Please join us in congratulating the NAI’s University of Wisconsin, Madison team in the grand opening of their new Biosignatures exhibit at the University’s Geology Museum! The exhibit takes visitors on a journey back in time to examine signatures of life in ancient rocks and fossils, as well as a journey through the senses with the Aromas of Astrobiology installation! A meteorite from Mars is the crown jewel…

    AbSciCon 2014 Postponed until 2015

    We have some bad news and some good news for the astrobiology community.

    The bad news is that there will be no Astrobiology Science Conference in 2014.

    The Astrobiology Program has been the sole source of funding for biennial AbSciCons from their beginning. However, restrictions on federal spending on conferences and budget limitations due to sequestration have led us to determine that the Program cannot support an AbSciCon next year. We regret this decision as much as you do, and it was a hard one to make.

    The good news is that we are taking a number of steps to raise the profile of astrobiology at other science conferences and to ensure that the Program will be able to support an AbSciCon in 2015.

    In addition, moving AbSciCon to 2015 – instead of to 2014 – may be advantageous. In 2014 it would be competing with a Gordon Conference on the Origins of Life, January 12-17 in Galveston, Texas, and with Origins 2014, the second ISSOL (International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life and Astrobiology Society)-Bioastronomy (International Astronomical Union Commission 51) joint international conference, July 6-11 in Nara, Japan.

    Another advantage of postponing AbSciCon until 2015 is that the planning of the next AbSciCon can follow the negotiations between the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), the organizers of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), and NASA on future NASA support for LPSC. NASA granted a one-time waiver of restrictions on conferences and travel by civil servants to enable LSPC to go forward this year as planned. It is not yet certain what will happen with future LPSCs. If a viable way for NASA to support these types of conferences emerges from their negotiations, we will try to apply this process to future AbSciCons.

    Meanwhile, we are working with the LPI, as they organize the next LPSC, on expanding the presence of astrobiology on the agenda for LPSC 2014 and in future years as well.

    Workshop on the Habitability of Icy Worlds

    First Announcement Available Now!
    Abstract Deadline: November 21, 2013

    The first announcement for the Workshop on the Habitability of Icy Worlds is now available. Included in this announcement is the call for abstracts and registration form. Hotel information will be coming soon.

    To view the announcement, visit the conference website:http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/icyworlds2014/

    The primary objective of this workshop will be to focus on the astrobiological potential of icy worlds in the outer solar system — including Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, Titan, and beyond — with discussion on future research directions and spacecraft missions that can best assess that potential. The agenda for the workshop will be organized around thematic sessions that address the potential habitability of the unique planetary environments of the outer solar system. Presentations on research involving terrestrial analogs for icy world environments are also encouraged.

    For more information, contact:
    Meeting and Publication Services

    Origins 2014

    Date: July 6 – 11, 2014
    Location: Nara, Japan

    Origins 2014 will be held at the Nara-ken New Public Hall, Nara, Japan, during July 6 (Sun)-July 11 (Fri), 2014, as the second joint international conference, ISSOL - the International Astrobiology Society and Bioastronomy (Commission 51 of the International Astronomical Union). The mission of this conference is to bring together scientists from all over the world who are interested in the emergence of life on Earth and in the Universe to share recent research achievements and future trends.

    For more information visit: http://www.origin-life.gr.jp/origins2014/index.html

    International Workshop on Education in Astrobiology

    Date: July 4 – 5, 2014
    Location: Kyoto, Japan

    A two day international workshop on education in Astrobiology, is being organized in Kyoto, Japan, from July 4th to 5th, planned to precede the Origins 2014 conference in Nara, Japan,

    This builds on the first International Workshop on Education in Astrobiology that was organized in Höör, Sweden, in June of 2013 (http://www.nordicastrobiology.net/IWEA/)

    The aim of the meeting in Höör was to bring together scientists and teachers engaged in astrobiology education at universities and other training institutions to:

    • discuss new teaching and assessment forms in astrobiology
    • foster international cooperation in astrobiology teaching
    • give the attendants a thorough overview of the field.

    Indeed, training students in such a multidisciplinary subject implies a lot of challenges and pitfalls, both in the set-up and organization of the course, choice of lecturers and literature, grading of students as well as the necessity of new teaching methods.

    The conference in Höör served as a forum for exchange of ideas and experiences, but also as a starting point for a long-term international collaboration in astrobiology teaching.

    The upcoming conference Origins 2014 in Nara, which is expected to welcome 500 participants, will give us the opportunity to continue this international cooperation on a larger scale.

    The organizers of the Kyoto workshop would like input on two questions:

    • would you be interesting in attending such a workshop ?
    • what would you expect from it?

    Please send your answers to Muriel Gargaud and Wolf Geppert by October 31st


    Mars Rover Provides Clues to Mars’ Past Atmosphere

    Lab demonstration of the measurement chamber inside the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, an instrument that is part of SAM on NASA’s Curiosity rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    New results from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) investigation on NASA’s Curiosity rover have been reported in two papers in the journal Science. Curiosity has been using SAM to study the atmospheric composition on Mars, and is revealing new clues about how the planet lost much of its original atmosphere.

    The findings come from atmospheric samples collected in the first 16 weeks of Curiosity’s mission. The samples were analyzed with SAM’s mass spectrometer and tunable laser spectrometer. SAM also includes a gas chromatograph, and all three of the instruments that make up SAM are used to analyze rocks, soil and atmosphere on Mars.

    SAM does not provide direct measurements of the rate at which Mars’ atmosphere is currently escaping. This is a task for NASA’s next Mars mission, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN).

    The paper, “Isotope Ratios of H, C, and O in CO2 and H2O of the Martian Atmosphere” was published in the journal Science under lead author Chris R. Webster. A second paper, “Abundance and Isotopic Composition of Gases in the Martian Atmosphere from the Curiosity Rover,” was also published in Science under lead author Paul R. Mahaffy.

    New Evidence for a Martian Ocean

    Comparison of exhumed delta in sedimentary rocks on Mars (left) with a modern delta on Earth (right). On the left, a shaded relief map shows elevated, branching, lobate features in Aeolis Dorsa, Mars, interpreted as resistant channel deposits that make up an ancient delta. These layered, cross-cutting features are typical of channelized sedimentary deposits on Earth and here are indicative of a coastal delta environment. Image credit: DiBiase et al./Journal of Geophysical Research/2013 and USGS/NASA Landsat

    Scientists studying data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have discovered new evidence that Mars may have once had a vast ocean on its surface. The research team spotted an ancient delta where a river might have emptied into an ocean so large that it covered much of the planet’s northern hemisphere.

    Delta-like features have been found on Mars before, but most of them appear to flow into craters or similar geological boundaries, and not into places where ocean-sized bodies of water would have been likely to exist. The newly identified delta was found on what would have been the coastline of Mars’ ancient ocean, and geological evidence in the delta points toward the ocean’s existence.

    Mars’ northern lowlands have previously been compared to ocean basins on Earth, and scientists have long suspected that this flat area of low elevation is the remnant of an ancient martian seabed. The recent study provides new support for that theory.

    The study could also help astrobiologists understand past environments on Mars where surface water persisted for long periods of time. This is important in determining whether or not habitats on ancient Mars were capable of supporting life as we know it.

    The study, “Deltaic deposits at Aeolis Dorsa: Sedimentary evidence for a standing body of water on the northern plains of Mars,” was published in the July 12 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research

    Water on Moon’s Surface Hints at Water Below

    This 70mm handheld camera’s view of the moon, photographed during the Apollo 16 mission’s lunar orbit, features Crater Bullialdus, located at approximately 20 degrees south latitude and 20.8 west longitude. Image credit: NASA

    Scientists supported by NASA have detected water locked in mineral grains on the Moon. The findings hint at unknown water sources deep below the lunar surface. Data for the study came from the NASA-funded Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

    Chandrayaan-1 used M3 from orbit to remotely detected magmatic water in the central peak of the Moon’s Bullialdus impact crater. Rocks from the peak originate from beneath the lunar surface and were excavated by the impact event that formed the crater.

    Examining internal magmatic water on the Moon will help scientists understand how the Moon formed and how lunar magmatic process changed as it cooled. This information is valuable to astrobiologists who study in the formation and evolution of planetary bodies in order to determine the conditions that lead to habitability.

    The findings were published August 25 in the journal Nature Geoscience

    Solar System’s Youth Gives Clues to Planet Search

    Modeling results show where the injected gas and dust ended up only 34 years after being injected at the disk’s surface. It was injected 9 astronomical units from the central prostar and is now in the disk’s midplane. The outer edge shown is 10 astronomical units from the central prostar. Mixing and transport are still underway and the underlying spiral arms that drive the mixing and transport can be seen. Image credit: Alan Boss

    New theoretical models show how an outburst event in the Sun’s formative years could have affected our solar system’s development. The model could help resolve discrepancies found in studies of comets and meteorites.

    Astrobiologists have gathered a great deal of information about the early Solar System by studying meteorites and comets. These objects are remnants from the Solar System’s early days, when the planets were forming from a disk of gas and dust that swirled around our young sun. However, sometimes the results of these studies don’t seem to match up.

    Particles in comets suggest that there was mixing of matter in the disk and outward movement of material away from the star. Some isotopes in meteorites support this idea, yet others paint a different picture of matter migrating inward.

    The new model, developed by Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institute, shows how gravitational instability in the disk around the Sun could have lead to an ‘outburst phase’ from our host star. This outburst might explain the disparate findings in comet and meteorite studies. The model also sheds new light on how our system formed and evolved, and could help in the search for habitable planets around distant stars. The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal

    Exploring the World of Life Underground

    Jan Amend, professor of earth sciences and biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers in an investigation into what life teems within Earth’s subsurface biosphere. Their approach could become a template for collecting evidence of life or past life on extraterrestrial planetary bodies such as Mars. Image credit: USC/Michelle Salzman

    Future life-seeking missions on other worlds may be in for a tough time if all evidence of past or present life is below the surface. In a talk given for the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI ) Astrobiology Lecture Series, Jan Amend discussed how his team is taking the next step in studying microbes that have conquered the subsurface of the Earth, and how techniques will need to be perfected before they can be successfully used on another planet.

    The Planets, Life, and the Universe Lecture Series is supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, The Space Telescope Science Institute, the Department of Biology and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences of the Johns Hopkins University, the Space Studies Initiative, and the Ernst Cloos Memorial Scholars Program.

    Ancient Snowfall on Mars

    Image of valley networks on Mars captured by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Image credit: NASA

    A new study supported in part by NASA has identified a potential origin for ancient water on Mars that was responsible for carving valley networks that branch across the planet’s surface. Scientists identified four water-carved valleys on Mars that were likely caused by runoff from 'orographic’ precipitation. This type of precipitation occurs when moist, prevailing winds blow over mountains and are pushed upward, resulting in snow or rainfall. The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters

    Studying the nature of liquid water that was present on the surface of ancient Mars is important to astrobiologists because it provides clues about whether or not the planet once supported environmental conditions that were suitable for life as we know it.

    Ice and Extrasolar Planet Climate

    This artist’s concept illustrates a planet orbiting a red dwarf star. Image credit: NASA

    In a bit of cosmic irony, planets orbiting cooler stars may be more likely to remain ice-free than planets around hotter stars. According to a new study co-funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and published recently in Astrobiology, this is due to the interaction of a star’s light with ice and snow on the planet’s surface.

    Stars emit different types of light. Hotter stars emit high-energy visible and ultraviolet light, and cooler stars give off infrared and near-infrared light, which has a much lower energy.

    It seems logical that the warmth of terrestrial or rocky planets should depend on the amount of light they get from their stars, all other things being equal. But new climate model research led by Aomawa Shields, a doctoral student in the University of Washington astronomy department, has added a surprising new twist to the story: planets orbiting cool stars actually may be much warmer and less icy than their counterparts orbiting much hotter stars, even though they receive the same amount of light.

    That’s because the ice absorbs much of the longer wavelength, near-infrared light predominantly emitted by these cooler stars. This is counter to what we experience on Earth, where ice and snow strongly reflect the visible light emitted by the Sun.

    Serpentinization of Ocean Crust: Life’s Mother Engine?

    Shelf-like “flange” structures jut from the wall of one of the spires in the Lost City hydrothermal field. Image credit: IFE URI-IAO, Lost City Science Party, and NOAA

    In a new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, NAI-funded scientists advance a theory about life’s origins based on the idea of “reservoir-mediated energy.” This paradigm—in cells—involves constantly filling up and depleting a kind of chemical reservoir that is created by pushing a lot more protons onto one side of a membrane than the other—just like pumping water uphill to fill a lake behind a dam.

    Then, mimicking how hydroelectric turbines are driven by water flowing downhill, these protons are only allowed to flow back “downhill” through the membrane by passing through a turbine-like molecular “generator” which creates, instead of high-voltage electricity, a chemical fuel called ATP, the cell’s “gasoline.” All cells then “burn” ATP in order to power their vital processes.

    The study looks at how a geochemical process known as serpentinization pioneered this system before life even began, giving it a “free gift!” At the time life arose, the world was almost entirely covered in a weakly-acidic ocean, the atmosphere was rich in CO2, and tectonic processes constantly replenished and destroyed the crusts of the ocean floor, as they still do today. It is the exposure of newly made ocean crust to the ocean, such as what happens at hydrothermal vents, that gives rise to the geochemical magic of serpentinization.

    As areas of new ocean crust cool, the still-stressed rock becomes brittle and develops cracks. Cold seawater gravitates down the cracks where it is heated and reacts chemically with rock minerals to form a highly-alkaline solution. This transformed water, or vent fluid, is then driven back to the surface, where, in Hadean times, it reacted with cooler, mildly acidic ocean water. These reactions create precipitates that form massive chimney-like towers similar to chemical gardens.

    These highly-structured precipitate-chimneys are comprised of numerous micro-compartments bounded by semi-permeable “mineral membranes.” Across these membranes, a proton (pH) gradient arises between the extremely alkaline emerging vent fluids and the surrounding, relatively acidic ocean.

    This pH gradient is almost exactly the same as the gradient that all living cells constantly recreate with the same strength and the same direction: acidic on the outside and alkaline on the inside.

    “It is at least highly suggestive that every living thing is constantly and indeed furiously recreating something equivalent to this ancient ‘ocean effluent’ membrane-based proton gradient that serpentinization handed life to start with on the rocky floor of the ancient Hadean ocean,” said co-author Elbert Branscomb of the University of Illinois. “It was, in part, by exploiting that naturally-given, geochemical proton gradient that the engines required to produce the molecular ‘starter kit’ of life got going. So suddenly it’s obvious why we pump protons and use this silly method—we became dependent on this ‘free lunch’ energy system when life was born, developed a lot of fancy machinery for using it, and have never severed that umbilicus since.”

    The scientists have developed an experimental system to study serpentinization and look at chemical reactions that pave the way for life in simulated vents. They observe that hydrothermal vent fluids lead to the production of a simple chemical called acetate (similar to vinegar). Acetate can then be transformed into biological molecules.

    Their findings could help define chemical signatures to look for when searching for life on icy worlds like Europa and Enceladus.


    Calling all Early Career Scientists! Passionate about Science? Love to Communicate?

    You are wholeheartedly invited to participate in FameLab: Exploring Earth and Beyond which is occurring December 8th at AGU in San Francisco!

    FameLab is something like American Idol for scientists… Sponsored by NASA and National Geographic, it’s a fun-filled day of competition, coaching, and camaraderie that’s all about science communication! At regional heats held across the US, early career scientists from diverse scientific disciplines craft a 3-minute, powerpoint-free talk on their research or a related topic and deliver it in a supportive environment to judges who give only constructive feedback. No slides, no charts—just the power of words and any prop you can hold in your hands. The heart of the whole thing is a workshop conducted by communication professionals to help participants enrich their skills. So unlike American Idol, everyone wins!

    Winners from the regional competitions advance to the Final at National Geographic in DC in April, 2014, and the winner there goes on to compete with peers from around the world at the FameLab International Final in the UK in June, 2014.

    Even if you’re not planning to attend AGU, you’re welcome to participate. Register or sign up for our mailing list to stay in the loop: http://famelab-eeb.arc.nasa.gov/.

    Postdoctoral Opportunity at Yale University (Geology and Geophysics)

    The Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University invites applications for a postdoctoral scientist in astrobiology. Candidates with backgrounds in geomicrobiology, sedimentary geochemistry, and paleontology are encouraged to apply. The postdoc will carry out taphonomic investigations, including laboratory experiments, on the preservation pathways of groups of organisms through the Proterozoic. The research is part of a NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) project on Foundations of Complex Life: Evolution, preservation and detection on earth and beyond (PI Roger Summons at MIT), which is a collaboration including other labs at Harvard, Dartmouth, Caltech, Smithsonian, UCLA, UC Davis, Williams College, and Brown

    The position is based in the Lab of Derek Briggs. The successful candidate will join a thriving community of postdocs, graduate students and faculty within the Department of Geology and Geophysics and associated interdisciplinary communities including the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, and the Yale Peabody Museum.

    The appointment is for a year in the first instance, renewable assuming satisfactory progress and continued availability of funding. Applicants should submit a brief cover letter, CV, and contact information for three referees to Derek Briggs (Subject: NAI postdoc). The review of applicants began in September 2013 and will continue until the position is filled. Yale University is an equal opportunity employer; applications from women and minority scientists are encouraged.

    For the full announcement visit: http://earth.yale.edu/postdoctoral-fellowships

    Postdoctoral Opportunities at Harvard University (Origins of Life Initiative)

    Harvard Post-doctoral Fellow positions are available for Chemistry and/or Physics Ph.D.’s to work in a project on the “Top-­down Synthesis of Biologically Inspired Chemically Operated Systems” led by Dr. Juan Perez-Mercader in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and within Harvard University’s Origins of Life Initiative.

    We have positions available in our group to work on (1) the Application of the Renormalization Group to Reaction-­Diffusion Systems and/or (2) Information Theory in Chemical/Biochemical Systems. We are looking for individuals familiar with analytical as well as numerical experience in these (or closely related) topics and willing to establish a dialog with others already involved in ongoing experimental, theoretical and/or phenomenological work.

    We also have positions for Ph.D.’s to become involved in experimental work on (3) Chemically Induced Cooperative Phenomena (including Quorum Sensing and Coherence Resonance), (4) the Study of Polymersomes and their Formation, (5) Chemomechanical Coupling in Gels and (6) on Oscillatory Chemical Reactions.

    These positions will be initially awarded for one year and contingent upon strong performance, they may be renewed for up to two years. Those interested in applying are invited to send a copy of their CV, three letters of recommendation and a short (limited to one page) statement of his or her scientific interests to Juan Perez-Mercader jperezmercader@fas.harvard.edu with copy to Ms. Alice Colby colby@fas.harvard.edu before November 1, 2013. Evaluation of the applications will start immediately and decisions made by the end of November 2013. The positions can start as soon as January 1, 2014. For additional information you may address your specific questions by getting in touch with us through our web page email link http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~topdownsynthbio/email.cgi

    Harvard University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer, strongly encouraging applications from women and minority scientists, and offering competitive compensation and benefits.

    NASA Seeks America’s Best and Brightest for Space Technology Research Fellowships

    NASA is seeking applications from U.S. graduate students for the agency’s Space Technology Research Fellowships. The research grants, worth as much as $68,000 per year, will coincide with the start of the 2014 fall term.

    Applications will be accepted from students pursuing or planning to pursue master’s or doctorate degrees in relevant space technology disciplines at accredited U.S. universities. The grants will sponsor U.S. graduate student researchers who show significant potential to contribute to NASA’s strategic space technology objectives through their studies. To date, NASA has awarded grants to 193 student researchers from 68 universities located in 33 states and one U.S. territory.
    “To maintain our global leadership in space technology we must continue our investments in university research where some of the best future advancements in space technology reside,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington. “These investments will enable a new generation of our best and brightest graduate students to contribute meaningfully to the advancement of technology capabilities for future NASA missions, as well as the nation’s technology based economy.”

    Sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the fellowships are improving America’s technological competitiveness by providing the nation with a pipeline of innovative space technologies.

    The deadline for submitting applications is November 13, 2013. For more information and instructions on how to submit applications, visit: http://tinyurl.com/NSTRF14

    NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is building, testing and flying the technologies needed for NASA’s missions that are also of benefit to the nation. For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech