1. NAI Newsletter 2014-2-20

    February 20, 2014 Issue


    NEWS
    Astrobiology Graphic History – Issue #4 Available!
    NASA Astrobiology NPP Alumni Seminar Series: Jennifer Glass
    Upcoming NAI Director’s Seminars
    NASA Offers Space Tech Grants To Early Career University Faculty
    Call for Nominations to the Executive Committee of the Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG)
    SMD Seeks Volunteer Reviewers for Graduate Student Fellowship Proposals

    RECENTLY PUBLISHED RESEARCH
    Space Dust Carries Water and Organic Carbon
    Size Mattered in Prehistoric Seas
    New Technique Could Be Used to Search Space Dust for Life’s Ingredients
    Cooking Up Life’s Origin – the Safer Way
    Properties of PAH’s
    Ahoy! First Ocean Vesicles Spotted

    FOR STUDENTS AND YOUNG INVESTIGATORS
    Next FameLab Regional Competition February 21 in Sl Louis, MO
    NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award
    Become a SAGANet.org E­mentor
    STSCI Research and Instrument Analysts Opportunity

    DEADLINES IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS


    NEWS


    Astrobiology Graphic History – Issue #4 Available!

    Panels from Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe, Issue #4. Credit: NASA Astrobiology Panels from Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe, Issue #4. Credit: NASA Astrobiology

    The fourth issue of the Astrobiology Graphic History book is now available! Download the digital version here (or the mobile-optimized version here)!

    Issue #4 maintains the gorgeous look and feel of the series, and continues the captivating story of Exo and Astrobiology. This installment explores astrobiology’s role in missions to the outer Solar System. See how science helped shape the exploration of gas giants and icy worlds beyond our system’s main asteroid belt.

    While spacecraft plied the distant corners of the Solar System, astrobiologists made startling discoveries about the limits of life’s survival on Earth. Astrobiologists used these discoveries to help interpret the data that robotic explorers sent back from locations like Jupiter’s moon Europa. The results completely changed the way we view life’s potential outside of the traditional ‘habitable zone’ around stars.

    Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe was produced by the NASA Astrobiology Program to celebrate the 50th anniversary of astrobiology at NASA.

    Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe, Issue #4. Image Credit: NASA Astrobiology / Aaron Gronstal Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe, Issue #4. Image Credit: NASA Astrobiology / Aaron Gronstal


    NASA Astrobiology NPP Alumni Seminar Series: Jennifer Glass

    The image to the left shows Jennifer Glass working in a chamber where she can control the oxygen levels to mimic the deep sea environment. On the right is an example of marine gas hydrates on the sea The image to the left shows Jennifer Glass working in a chamber where she can control the oxygen levels to mimic the deep sea environment. On the right is an example of marine gas hydrates on the sea floor. Credit: Rob Felt (left image); US Department of Energy (right image)

    On March 3, 2014, Dr. Jennifer Glass of the Georgia Institute of Technology (GA Tech) will present the second in our series of talks from alumni of the NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program (NPP). In her talk, “Microbes, Methane and Metals: Insights From Geochemistry, Omics and Single Cell Imaging,” Glass will discuss her work on the unique ecosystems that thrive around methane seeps on the ocean floor.

    Dr. Jennifer Glass is an assistant professor of geomicrobiology & geochemistry in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at GA Tech. Her talk is part of a series of seminars where NPP Fellows will present the results from their completed fellowships. Please join us on the following Mondays at 11 AM Pacific.

    March 3 Jennifer Glass
    April 7 Billy Brazelton and Paula Welander
    April 14 Mark Claire
    May 5 Aaron Engelhart

    For abstracts and connection instructions, please visit the NASA Astrobiology Program seminar page at https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/seminars/ .


    Upcoming NAI Director’s Seminars

    Please join us for the next two NAI Director’s Seminars:

    March 10, Eric Herbst, University of Virginia
    Title: The Formation of Complex Organic Molecules in Star-Forming Regions

    April 21, Victoria Orphan, California Institute of Technology
    Title: Methane Based Life in a Deep-Sea concrete Jungle

    Please see http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/seminars/ for connection information.


    NASA Offers Space Tech Grants To Early Career University Faculty

    Proposal Submission Deadline: March 14, 2014

    NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is seeking proposals from accredited U.S. universities on behalf of outstanding early career faculty members who are beginning their independent careers. The grants will sponsor research in specific, high priority areas of interest to America’s space program.

    Aligned with NASA’s Space Technology Roadmaps and priorities identified by the National Research Council, the agency has identified topic areas that lend themselves to the early stage innovative approaches U.S. universities can offer for solving tough space technology challenges.

    NASA expects to award about five grants this fall, funded up to $200,000 each per year for as many as three years, based on the merit of proposals and availability of funds. Funded research will investigate unique, disruptive or transformational space technologies in areas such as soft machines for robotic mobility and manipulation, science-based digital materials and manufacturing, and low size, weight, and power lasers.

    For information on the solicitation, including specific technology areas of interest and how to submit notices of intent and proposals, visit: http://tinyurl.com/kcglhca

    This solicitation is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in future missions. For more information about the directorate and Space Technology Research Grants Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech


    Call for Nominations to the Executive Committee of the Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG)

    Deadline for Nominations: February 28, 2014

    The Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is pleased to issue this open call for nominations to serve on the Executive Committee of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group, or ExoPAG. In the coming months, NASA anticipates making three new appointments to the ExoPAG Executive Committee, to replace current members Tom Greene, Lisa Kalteneggar, and Aki Roberge who have completed their term of service on the Committee. Appointments will be for a period of 3 years.

    The ExoPAG is an open, interdisciplinary forum that provides a conduit for community input into NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP), and for conducting analyses in support of ExEP science objectives and their implications for planning and prioritization of Program activities. The ExoPAG is led by a Chairperson drawn from the membership of the Astrophysics Subcommittee, and an Executive Committee, whose membership is chosen to reflect the broad range of scientific disciplines and interests represented in the field of exoplanet exploration. Together, the ExoPAG Chair and Executive Committee are responsible for capturing and organizing community input, overseeing ExoPAG analyses, reporting ExoPAG findings and inputs to the Astrophysics Subcommittee, and keeping the scientific community apprised of ongoing activities and opportunities within NASA’s ExEP. Detailed information about the structure and function of the ExoPAG, as well as the current and past membership of the ExoPAG EC, can be found on the Web at http://exep.jpl.nasa.gov/exopag.

    Nominations for the ExoPAG Executive Committee should be submitted via email to the address: Douglas.M.Hudgins@nasa.gov. Nominations must include both a cover letter and a one-page CV summarizing the nominee’s relevant background. The cover letter should provide a description of the nominee’s area of expertise and qualifications for service on the ExoPAG Executive Committee. Self-nominations are welcome and nominations of early-career scientists are especially encouraged. The deadline for receipt of nominations is 28 February 2014, with announcement of selections anticipated in April 2014.


    SMD Seeks Volunteer Reviewers for Graduate Student Fellowship Proposals

    To increase the pool of un-conflicted reviewers the Science Mission Directorate is seeking subject matter experts to serve as mail-in reviewers of proposals and/or in-person reviewers to engage in discussions at a face-to-face panel meeting. New researchers (including post doctoral fellows) are welcome to apply as they provide fresh insight from people close to the most current research.

    To find out more about becoming a reviewer for NASA Earth and Space Science (graduate student) Fellowship proposals, visit http://science1.nasa.gov/researchers/volunteer-review-panels/


    RECENTLY PUBLISHED RESEARCH


    Space Dust Carries Water and Organic Carbon

    Water forms on interplanetary dust particles due to space-weathering from the solar wind. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen atoms in the dust to form tiny water-filled vesicles(blue). Water forms on interplanetary dust particles due to space-weathering from the solar wind. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen atoms in the dust to form tiny water-filled vesicles(blue). Credit: John Bradley, UH SOEST/ LLNL

    Could Space Dust have Delivered Life’s Ingredients to Earth?

    For the first time, scientists have detected water molecules on the surface of interplanetary dust particles. The water forms in tiny bubbles when solar wind irradiates and damages the dust grains floating through space.

    Previous research had shown that space dust also contains organic carbon-another key ingredient for life. Taken together, these findings raise the intriguing possibility that dust trickling down from space could have seeded life’s building blocks on our own planet-and potentially elsewhere.

    Dust in the (Solar) Wind

    For the past 40 years, researchers have debated whether solar wind could actually produce water. When astronauts brought rocks and soil back from the Moon, scientists had noticed that solar wind irradiation creates pockets of damage on the outer layers of space objects that lack a protective atmosphere.

    They quickly realized that water could potentially be created by this process. Dust grains come from the breakdown of comets, asteroids, and leftover debris from the birth of the solar system. They contain a lot of silicate, a mineral made of silicon and oxygen.

    Solar wind mainly blasts clouds of hydrogen ions into space. When the wind hits cosmic debris, the ensuing damage loosens the oxygen atoms, which are then free to react with the solar wind’s hydrogen, potentially resulting in the formation of tiny pockets of water.

    But the amount of water was too small to be detected-until now.

    The research team, led by John Bradley of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, used a state-of-the-art transition electron microscope to finally detect these water pockets on cosmic dust. The samples had previously been collected by high-flying NASA aircrafts, and curated by the Astromaterial research group at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

    The team confirmed their finding by simulating the process in the laboratory. The work was conducted at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and the findings were published this month is the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    For more information, read the full article here.


    Size Mattered in Prehistoric Seas

    Fossil remains of Ediacara biota. Credit: Courtesy of Marc Laflamme Fossil remains of Ediacara biota. Credit: Courtesy of Marc Laflamme, University of Toronto

    A team of researchers, including members of the MIT node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), have revealed new insight into why organisms on the ancient Earth began to grow larger. Life began on our planet as single-cell microorganisms, but today the Earth supports a diverse array of multicellular life. The new study could help explain the advantages that early organisms gained from an increase in size.

    The study, published in Current Biology, shows how primitive organisms called Ediacara became larger to help access nutrients in ocean currents. Ediacara were leaf-shaped, grew up to a meter off of the seafloor, and are considered one of the earliest examples of large, multicellular life.

    The team used 3-D models to reconstruct the ocean currents from 580 million years ago. They found that nutrients were concentrated in certain areas, resulting in dense communities of bacteria and multicellular organisms that had to fight for resources. The researchers believe that increasing size could have been the advantage that Ediacara needed to out-compete the smaller, more efficient microbial biofilms.


    New Technique Could Be Used to Search Space Dust for Life’s Ingredients

    This equipment is used by Goddard's Astrobiology Analytical Lab to analyze very small samples. On the right is the nanoelectrospray emitter, which gives sample molecules an electric charge and transfe This equipment is used by Goddard's Astrobiology Analytical Lab to analyze very small samples. On the right is the nanoelectrospray emitter, which gives sample molecules an electric charge and transfers them to the inlet of the mass spectrometer (left), which identifies the molecules by their mass.

    NAI-funded astrobiologists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully completed a proof-of-concept study of a new technique to analyze extremely small samples of material such as from asteroids, comets, and interplanetary dust particles for the presence of biomolecules such as amino acids, components used to make DNA, and other biologically important molecules like nitrogen heterocycles, sugar-related organic compounds, and compounds found in modern metabolism.

    Read the full article here.

    Ultimately, the techniques they have pioneered will allow investigation of other small-scale extraterrestrial materials such as micrometeorites, interplanetary dust particles, and cometary particles in future studies. Goddard’s Mike Callahan is lead author of a paper on this research available online in the Journal of Chromatography A.


    Cooking Up Life’s Origin – the Safer Way

    The original box containing archived spark discharge samples prepared by Stanley Miller in 1958. The label shows Miller’s original writing: p 114 refers to his notebook. Credit: Jeffrey Bada and Rober The original box containing archived spark discharge samples prepared by Stanley Miller in 1958. The label shows Miller’s original writing: p 114 refers to his notebook. Credit: Jeffrey Bada and Robert Benson/Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego

    Back in 1953, Stanley Miller, working at the University of Chicago with Harold Urey, showed how easily one could cook up life’s building blocks by simulating the conditions on early Earth.

    But while the success of the Miller-Urey experiment kicked off an entire field of research, Miller had one basic piece of advice for anyone who’d want to try it out: “Don’t do it.”

    “Stanley was always afraid it might lead to a disaster,” explains Jeffrey Bada, who was a student of Miller in the 1960s. “If you were not careful to let all the atmospheric air out, the setup could explode. So unless they were highly trained, he’d always advise people against repeating the experiment.”

    But now a team including scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, NASA (including Dr. Bada), and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have recreated a simpler and safer way of conducting Miller-Urey type experiments.

    Along with written instructions, the new version was published this month in a step-by-step video format in the Journal of Visualized Experiment.

    Stanley Miller performs his famous experiment in issue 1 of Astrobiology: The story of our search for life in the Universe. Credit: NASA Astrobiology/artwork by Aaron Gronstal. (Click image for full s Stanley Miller performs his famous experiment in issue 1 of Astrobiology: The story of our search for life in the Universe. Credit: NASA Astrobiology/artwork by Aaron Gronstal

    Click here to see more about the publication, Astrobiology: The Story of Our Search for Life in the Universe.


    Properties of PAH’s

    NGC 7023: The Iris Nebula, Image Credit & Copyright: Jim Misti (acquisition), Robert Gendler (processing) NGC 7023: The Iris Nebula, Image Credit & Copyright: Jim Misti (acquisition), Robert Gendler (processing)

    Astrobiologists at NASA Ames Research Center funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have recently published a study on the analysis of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAH’s, in the Iris Nebula. Their analyses of individual PAH spectra have allowed them to see how different types of PAH’s map to different areas of the nebula, and also how PAH behavior changes with respect to changes in the local environment.


    Ahoy! First Ocean Vesicles Spotted

    Scientists at MIT documented the first extracellular vesicles produced by ocean microbes. The arrow in the photo above points to one of these spherical vesicles in this scanning electron micrograph s Scientists at MIT documented the first extracellular vesicles produced by ocean microbes. The arrow in the photo above points to one of these spherical vesicles in this scanning electron micrograph showing Prochlorococcus cyanobacteria. Image Credit: Steven Biller/Chisholm Lab

    Marine cyanobacteria — tiny ocean plants that produce oxygen and make organic carbon using sunlight and CO2 — are primary engines of Earth’s biogeochemical and nutrient cycles. They nourish other organisms through the provision of oxygen and with their own body mass, which forms the base of the ocean food chain.

    Now NASA Astrobiology Institute-funded scientists at MIT have discovered another dimension of the outsized role played by these tiny cells: The cyanobacteria continually produce and release vesicles, spherical packages containing carbon and other nutrients that can serve as food parcels for marine organisms. The vesicles also contain DNA, likely providing a means of gene transfer within and among communities of similar bacteria, and they may even act as decoys for deflecting viruses.

    In a paper published this week in Science, postdoc Steven Biller, Professor Sallie (Penny) Chisholm, and co-authors report the discovery of large numbers of extracellular vesicles associated with the two most abundant types of cyanobacteria, Prochlorococcus and Synechoccocus. The scientists found the vesicles (each about 100 nanometers in diameter) suspended in cultures of the cyanobacteria as well as in seawater samples taken from both the nutrient-rich coastal waters of New England and the nutrient-sparse waters of the Sargasso Sea.

    “The finding that vesicles are so abundant in the oceans really expands the context in which we need to understand these structures,” says Biller, first author on the Science paper. “Vesicles are a previously unrecognized and unexplored component of the dissolved organic carbon in marine ecosystems, and they could prove to be an important vehicle for genetic and biogeochemical exchange in the oceans.”

    Although extracellular vesicles were discovered in 1967 and have been studied in human-related bacteria, this is the first evidence of their existence in the ocean. Read the whole story here.


    FOR STUDENTS AND YOUNG INVESTIGATORS


    Next FameLab Regional Competition February 21 in St. Louis, MO

    Calling all early career scientists! Passionate about science? Love to communicate – or want to learn how?

    You are wholeheartedly invited to participate in FameLab: Exploring Earth and Beyond! 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! 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!

    See video clips of prior FameLabbers here: http://famelab-eeb.arc.nasa.gov/competitions/

    We’ve had 5 regional competitions so far in “Season 2” here in the US, and our next one is at Washington University, St. Louis (WUSTL) in St. Louis, MO on February 21st—22nd in conjunction with National Geographic’s Young Explorer Workshop (YEG).

    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…it’s quite the global sensation!

    Even if you’re not planning to attend the YEG, you’re welcome to participate. Register today at: http://famelab-eeb.arc.nasa.gov/competitions/eeb-yeg/


    NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award

    Application Deadline: April 1

    The Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award offers research-related travel support for undergraduate, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior scientists. Applicants are encouraged to use these resources to circulate among two or more laboratories supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program (ASTEP, ASTID, Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology or the NAI), however any travel that is critical for the applicant’s research will be considered. Travelers must be formally affiliated with a U.S. institution. Requests are limited to $5,000.

    For application details visit https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/funding/nasa-astrobiology-early-career-collaboration-award/


    Become a SAGANet.org E­mentor

    Interested in inspiring the next generation of scientists? Are you an early­ career scientist? Do you want to help the next generation learn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)?

    SAGANet.org is recruiting mentors for our 2014 e­mentor program! We are looking for early ­career scientists (grads, postdocs, faculty) interested in mentoring students and families using virtual media technologies. We are running three programs this spring:

    Science @ Home!
    Pair up with an elementary school student and their family to prepare a science project for a school fair!

    The Future is You!
    Work with at­ risk youth to build a geological timeline of Earth’s history and envision the future.

    Excelsior Science Challenge
    Work with students to develop a project for their school science competition.

    What’s in it for you? A rewarding experience, professional mentoring training, webinars, a peer ­network of like ­minded people.

    To find out more visit: http://saganet.org/page/mentoring-welcome


    STSCI Research and Instrument Analysts Opportunity

    Application Deadline: February 28, 2014

    The Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI) Research and Instrument Analysts (RIAs) will assist Instrument Scientists in the reduction and analysis of Hubble Space Telescope calibration data. Analysts will also assist in the development and testing of the scientific instruments and optical systems for the James Webb Space Telescope. They will provide User Support to HST General Observers and Archival Researchers in various aspects of observation planning and data reduction. Additionally, analysts may become involved in cutting-edge astronomical research by providing support for scientific programs of staff scientists. Such support can involve calibrating data, photometry, spectroscopy, image drizzling, coding, and laboratory work in astronomical instrumentation. Successful applicants typically have a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD degree in Astronomy, Physics, Astrophysics, Planetary Science, or related fields.

    For the complete job description visit: https://rn11.ultipro.com/SPA1004/JobBoard/JobDetails.aspx?__ID=*704C3D820D6BE438


    DEADLINES IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS


    February 21 Abstract Submission Deadline for Origins 2014 July 6-11

    February 28 Student Scholarship Application Deadline for Josep Comas i Sola International Summer School in Astrobiology June 23-27

    February 28 Online Registration Deadline for International Cometary Workshop April 1-3

    March 1 Application Deadline for NASA Postdoctoral Program

    March 1 Registration Deadline for 21th Young Scientists’ Conference on Astronomy and Space Physics April 28 – May 3

    March 1 Abstract Submission Deadline for 48th ESLAB Symposium: New Insights Into Volcanism Across the Solar System June 16-21

    March 1 Abstract Submission Deadline for Workshop on Hyperspectral Image and Signal Processing: Evolution in Remote Sensing (WHISPERS) 2014 June 25-27

    March 1 Abstract Submission Deadline for Symposium: DNA Habitats and its RNA Inhabitants July 3-5

    March 1 Early Registration Deadline for CoRoT3-KASC7: The Space Photometry Revolution July 6-11

    March 17 Application Deadline for NASA Astrobiology Program Minority Institution Research Support Program

    March 17 Renewal Application Deadline for NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship