Astrobiology Newsletter December 10, 2015December 10, 2015
- Astrobiology Sessions at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting
- Astrobiology Graphic History Issue #5 at AGU
- An Audio/Visual Concert – Origins: Life and the Universe
- Recap of the Western Championship Tournament of the NASA Astrobiology Debates
- NAI Scientist Appointed Early Career Chair
- Cassini Plunged Into Icy Plumes of Enceladus
- FameLab USA: Semi-Final in San Francisco
- Many Worlds: The Exoplanet Era
- New Exoplanet Habitability Index
- The Search for the Origin of Life
RECENTLY PUBLISHED RESEARCH
- NASA Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere
- New NASA Study Reveals Origin of Organic Matter in Apollo Lunar Samples
- Free Oxygen in the Late Archean
- A New Model for Homochirality
- Aerosol Formation on Titan
- Calibrating a Mass Spec for Studying Chemical Evolution
- Dating Meteor Impacts Requires More Data
CAREER, EMPLOYMENT & FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES
- Opening for Supervisory Physical Scientist, AST Chemical and Biological Evolution at NASA Ames Research Center
- University of Tennessee, Knoxville: Faculty Position in Planetary Petrology/Mineralogy/Geochemistry
- Cyanobacterial Evolution Postdoc Position at the Fournier Lab at MIT
- Postdoctoral Fellowships at Harvard University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences/Origins of Life Initiative
- Call for Letters of Application for Membership on NASA’s Science Definition Team for Ice Giants Mission Studies
- Call for Contributions in the Development of a Community-based Roadmap for NASA’s Planetary Data Services
- Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) 2016 Summer Intern Program in Planetary Science
- Exploration Science Summer Intern Program
- Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences Professor and Department Head
- Assistant Professor, George Mason University, Extrasolar Planets
- Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Microbial Diversity Summer School
- NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) Program for 2016-2017 Academic Year
- Travel Grants for Summer School “Volcanism, Plate Tectonics, Hydrothermal Vents and Life”
- ROSES-15 Planetary Early Career Fellowships
- NASA Planetary Science Division Seeks Volunteer Reviewers for ROSES Proposals
- SETI Institute Postdoctoral Research Opportunity
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Postdoctoral Position Available
- Three Post-Doctoral Positions in the Reaction Dynamic Group, Department of Chemistry at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa
- Senior Program Officer, Science and Technology for Sustainability at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC
- Open Rank Environmental Microbiology Faculty Position at Montana State University
Astrobiology Sessions at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting
The 2015 AGU Fall Meeting will take place December 14-18. We’ve compiled a cheat sheet schedule of this year’s astrobiology talks and poster sessions for easy downloading and printing out.
These events can also be conveniently scheduled and brought along using the AGU mobile app.
More information about AGU is available at their website: http://fallmeeting.agu.org/2015/.
Astrobiology Graphic History Issue #5 at AGU
Issue #5 of the ongoing Astrobiology graphic history series dives into the study of life on Mars through analog locations found on Earth, with special appearances made by real life astrobiologists. The issue is available for download as both a high-resolution PDF and a PDF for mobile devices.
If you are attending AGU, don’t miss your chance to get physical copies of Astrobiology, the Search for Life in the Universe signed by series writer and illustrator Aaron Gronstal on December 14th 6-8pm and December 15th 11:30-1pm.
An Audio/Visual Concert – Origins: Life and the UniversePerformance of the Northwest Sinfonia Orchestra. Source: astrobioconcert.com
On November 7, 2015, in Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington, an audiovisual concert was held paying tribute to some of the greatest discoveries made by astrobiologists, space scientists, and astronomers. The concert was a benefit for the scholarship program at the University of Washington Astrobiology Program and the Department of Astronomy and featured Grammy-award winning conductor David Sabee and the Northwest Sinfonia orchestra.
The symphonic concert was accompanied by projected high-resolution movies created using some of the most spectacular imagery, videos and conceptual art from the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, the European Southern Observatory, the European Space Agency, and many other collaborating researchers across the globe.
Samples of each of the 8 pieces and their video accompaniment can be found at https://vimeo.com/138363170.
Further details and photos of the concert can be found at http://www.astrobioconcert.com/
Recap of the Western Championship Tournament of the NASA Astrobiology Debates
The Western Championship Tournament of the NASA Astrobiology Debates series was held at the University of Washington, Seattle on October 17-18th. University debate teams from all over the country competed, including Central Michigan University, George Fox University, The George Washington University, Gonzaga University, Harvard University, MIT, Seattle University, US Air Force Academy, UC Berkeley, University of Texas, University of Washington, and Yale University. All teams worked with this topic: Resolved: An overriding ethical obligation to protect and preserve extraterrestrial microbial life and ecosystems should be incorporated into international law.
In the final, which was webcast live from Seattle on October 18th, George Washington University (affirmative) took on Yale (negative), and GW emerged victorious with a score of 4-3 from the judging panel. The Western Champions will join winners of future NASA Astrobiology Debates on a study tour next year to a NASA Center, touring facilities and meeting with scientists to gain deeper insight into the search for life elsewhere.
NAI Scientist Appointed Early Career ChairPhoto credit: USC/Matt Meindl
[Source: University of Southern California]
Moh El-Naggar, a member of the NAI Life Underground team at the University of Southern California has been appointed the first Robert D. Beyer Early Career Chair in Natural Sciences at USC. The appointment, designed specifically for early career scholars, enables the chair holders “to be risk takers because they now have an underpinning of support that gives them the freedom to do the extra work we really expect of great faculty,” says USC Provost Michael Quick.
El-Naggar heads the NanoBio Lab and is known as a pioneer in the area of energy conversion and charge transmission at the interface between living cells and synthetic surfaces, with work that may lead to the linking of cellular biology and chemistry to nanotechnology. His previous awards include the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the Young Investigators Program Award.
Cassini Plunged Into Icy Plumes of EnceladusThis unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Oct. 28, 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
The Cassini spacecraft took a daring plunge on October 28, 2015 into the icy geysers of Saturn’s moon Enceladus last week in search of telltale signs of a habitable environment. The encounter with the mysterious plume lasted only tens of seconds as Cassini hurtled past at a speed of about 19,000 miles per hour, yet in these critical moments up to 10,000 particles per second were sampled and identified using the probe’s cosmic dust analyzer. Analysis of this data could provide the most promising signs of habitability yet in the decade since Cassini’s initial flyby of the moon in 2005.
FameLab USA: Semi-Final in San FranciscoParticipants of the FameLab Semi-Final Competition at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco on November 2, 2015. Photo credit: Ian Chin.
Ten of the best FameLabbers of Season 3 gathered in San Francisco in early November as part of the Bay Area Science Festival. As the crowd cheered them on, each one took the stage for 3 minutes and explained their research to a panel of judges—from ant behavior, to the origins of life in the Universe, to using a dust made from diamonds to purify drinking water!
The winner is a climate scientist—Ilissa Ocko of the Environmental Defense Fund—who discussed different types of pollutants and their relative roles in overall climate change. Ilissa will go on to compete in the National Final in Spring, 2016 where we’ll have a special Master Class on science communication. The winner there will go on to represent the United States in the International FameLab Final at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK in June, 2016.
Many Worlds: The Exoplanet EraCredit: NExSS
The search for life beyond Earth has gone beyond Mars, Europa and our solar system to the billions of planets now known to orbit distant stars. A new, NASA-sponsored website that will explore the science and scientists of this cutting-edge and fast-growing field is available at www.manyworlds.space.
The site grew out of NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) initiative, an interdisciplinary endeavor to help differentiate between planets in the Universe that are 'habitable’ and those that are 'inhabited.’ The goal of NExSS is to bring together researchers from the different communities NASA funds to answer these questions.Many, and perhaps most stars have solar systems with numerous planets, as in this artist rendering of Kepler 11. Credit: NASA
The site is authored by Marc Kaufman — writer of two books on space and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer. Guest columnists appear regularly. If you are interested in what researchers are beginning to learn about the attributes of these distant worlds, take a look at the site, feel free to comment, and pass it on to friends and colleagues who might share your curiosity.
New Exoplanet Habitability IndexImage Source: NASA
Source: [University of Washington]
Scientists have developed a habitability index to rank exoplanets and their potential for increasing our knowledge of life in the universe, described in the forthcoming research paper, “Comparative Habitability of Transiting Exoplanets,” to be published in the Astrophysics Journal. The ranking system created at the Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) will help narrow down which exoplanet candidates in a habitability zone present the best transit data and planetary properties for future observation.
A press release was published by UW Today.
The study was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
The Search for the Origin of LifeImage: PBS LearningMedia
The Search for the Origin of Life, a documentary by Devon Riter and Daniel Schmidt, follows NASA Astrobiology Institute scientists as they explore the question: How did life on our planet begin? Their research takes them all around the globe and into extreme environments, from arctic glaciers to thermal hot springs to deep into caves. The program originally aired on PBS and is also now available for viewing through the Montana PBS website.
PBS LearningMedia provides teaching resources to accompany the program.
Looking Back 3.8 Billion Years Into the Root of the “Tree of Life”The ribosome grew by accretion of new RNA onto old RNA in a process reminiscent of nested Russian dolls. The most ancient part of the ribosome contains small RNA fragments and is represented by the smallest doll. Ever more recent additions to the ribosome increased its functionality, and are represented on dolls of increasing size. The largest doll displays the ribosomal RNA that is shared by all current forms of life. Credit: Nick Hud, Georgia Tech.
[Source: Georgia Tech]
NASA-funded researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are tapping information in the cells of all life on Earth, and using it to trace life’s evolution. They have learned that life is a master stenographer; writing, rewriting, and recording its history in elaborate biological structures.
Some of the keys to unlocking the origin of life lie encrypted in the ribosome, life’s oldest and most universal molecule. Today’s ribosome converts genetic information (RNA) into proteins that carry out various functions in an organism. But the ribosome itself has changed over time. Its history shows how simple molecules joined forces to invent biology, and its current structure records ancient biological processes that occurred at the root of the Tree of Life, some 3.8 billion years ago.
By examining variations in the ribosomal RNA contained in modern cells, scientists can visualize the timeline of life far back in history, elucidating molecular structures, reactions, and events near the biochemical origins of life.
The full press release is available at the Georgia Tech website.
The study is reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was funded in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
A video produced by Georgia Tech to accompany the published research explains the central dogma of molecular biology, molecular symbiosis, and the origin of the translation system.
NASA Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian AtmosphereArtist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet's upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA/GSFC
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.
MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the Nov. 5 issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.
“Mars appears to have had a thick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Understanding what happened to the Mars atmosphere will inform our knowledge of the dynamics and evolution of any planetary atmosphere. Learning what can cause changes to a planet’s environment from one that could host microbes at the surface to one that doesn’t is important to know, and is a key question that is being addressed in NASA’s journey to Mars.”
MAVEN measurements indicate that the solar wind strips away gas at a rate of about 100 grams (equivalent to roughly 1/4 pound) every second. “Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “We’ve seen that the atmospheric erosion increases significantly during solar storms, so we think the loss rate was much higher billions of years ago when the sun was young and more active.”
In addition, a series of dramatic solar storms hit Mars’ atmosphere in March 2015, and MAVEN found that the loss was accelerated. The combination of greater loss rates and increased solar storms in the past suggests that loss of atmosphere to space was likely a major process in changing the Martian climate.
The solar wind is a stream of particles, mainly protons and electrons, flowing from the sun’s atmosphere at a speed of about one million miles per hour. The magnetic field carried by the solar wind as it flows past Mars can generate an electric field, much as a turbine on Earth can be used to generate electricity. This electric field accelerates electrically charged gas atoms, called ions, in Mars’ upper atmosphere and shoots them into space.
MAVEN has been examining how solar wind and ultraviolet light strip gas from of the top of the planet’s atmosphere. New results indicate that the loss is experienced in three different regions of the Red Planet: down the “tail,” where the solar wind flows behind Mars, above the Martian poles in a “polar plume,” and from an extended cloud of gas surrounding Mars. The science team determined that almost 75 percent of the escaping ions come from the tail region, and nearly 25 percent are from the plume region, with just a minor contribution from the extended cloud.
Ancient regions on Mars bear signs of abundant water – such as features resembling valleys carved by rivers and mineral deposits that only form in the presence of liquid water. These features have led scientists to think that billions of years ago, the atmosphere of Mars was much denser and warm enough to form rivers, lakes and perhaps even oceans of liquid water.
Recently, researchers using NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed the seasonal appearance of hydrated salts indicating briny liquid water on Mars. However, the current Martian atmosphere is far too cold and thin to support long-lived or extensive amounts of liquid water on the planet’s surface.
“Solar-wind erosion is an important mechanism for atmospheric loss, and was important enough to account for significant change in the Martian climate,” said Joe Grebowsky, MAVEN project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “MAVEN also is studying other loss processes — such as loss due to impact of ions or escape of hydrogen atoms — and these will only increase the importance of atmospheric escape.”
The goal of NASA’s MAVEN mission, launched to Mars in November 2013, is to determine how much of the planet’s atmosphere and water have been lost to space. It is the first such mission devoted to understanding how the sun might have influenced atmospheric changes on the Red Planet. MAVEN has been operating at Mars for just over a year and completed its primary science mission on Nov. 16.
To view an animation simulating the loss of atmosphere and water on Mars: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?4370
For more information and images on Mars’ lost atmosphere, visit: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?4393
For more information about NASA’s MAVEN mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/maven
New NASA Study Reveals Origin of Organic Matter in Apollo Lunar SamplesAstronaut Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission holds a container filled with lunar soil collected while exploring the lunar surface. Astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., commander, who took this picture on November 20, 1969, is reflected in the helmet visor. Credit: NASA.
A team of NASA-funded scientists has solved an enduring mystery from the Apollo missions to the moon – the origin of organic matter found in lunar samples returned to Earth. Samples of the lunar soil brought back by the Apollo astronauts contain low levels of organic matter in the form of amino acids. Certain amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, essential molecules used by life to build structures like hair and skin and to regulate chemical reactions.
Since the lunar surface is completely inhospitable for known forms of life, scientists don’t think the organic matter came from life on the moon. Instead, they think the amino acids could have come from four possible sources.
The full story is available on the NASA website.
The research, “The origin of amino acids in lunar regolith samples,” is published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.
The program was supported by NASA’s Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research (LASER), the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and the Goddard Center for Astrobiology.
Free Oxygen in the Late ArcheanBands of the late Archean Mt. McRae Shale from the ABDP-9 core. The drill project was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the National Science Foundation. Image Credit: Arizona State University photo by Tim Trumble
A study on selenium (Se) isotopes in Australia’s Mount McRae Shale supports the theory that oxygenic photosynthesis originated long before the Great Oxidation Event (GOE), which occurred around 2.3 billion years ago. The Mount McRae Shale is a 2.5 billion-year-old formation and holds a record of enrichment and abundance of Se isotopes. The formation provides a means of studying levels of oxygen in both the ocean and atmosphere over Earth’s history, and indicates that there was a 'whiff of oxygen’ in the atmosphere prior to the GOE.
The study, “Selenium isotopes support free O2 in the latest Archean,” was published in the journal Geology. Samples for the study came from a 100 meter section of the ABDP-9 drill core, drilled by the NASA Astrobiology Drilling Program in 2004.
A New Model for HomochiralityA computer simulation with red as the "right hand" chiral molecule and blue as the "left hand" chiral molecule, showing homochirality emerging over time. Image credit: Nigel Goldenfeld Lab, University of Illinois.
A team of NAI scientists working at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) looked at the chirality—the mirrored or “right” and “left” hand versions of the same molecular structure that results in two functionally distinct molecules—of amino acids and sugars. They present a new way to understand how homochirality occurs, where one mirrored side or hand outcompetes the other. The press release is available through the EurakAlert! website.
An older hypothesis for homochirality posited that a chiral molecule can self-catalyze and self-replicate in a process that includes inhibiting the other chiral molecule from replicating. Using new methods for calculating reactions, the team found that when starting with two chiral species, as the molecules self-catalyze, one gains a lead that eventually tilts the scale to its complete dominance without having to inhibit the other. Because the process can be based simply on replication and disequilibrium, homochirality might thus be a biosignature that would appear in locations bearing signs of life.
The study was supported by the Institute for Universal Biology and funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
Aerosol Formation on TitanSunset on Saturn’s moon Titan reveals the atmosphere around the moon as seen from the night side with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
A recent laboratory study provides new insight into the atmospheric production of aerosols on Titan. Scientists used photochemistry and several mixtures of methane (CH4) and nitrogen gas (N2) to generate analogs of organic aerosols found in Titan’s atmosphere. The team analyzed the fractionation of carbon and nitrogen found in the aerosols they produced, providing clues as to how organic aerosols on Titan could act as a sink for these major elements.
Studying how stable isotopes of major elements like carbon and nitrogen form through organic chemistry on Titan could help astrobiologists better understand local and global processes on the moon.
Support for this research was provided by the NASA Astrobiology Program through NASA’s Solar System Workings element and the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory. Additional support came from NASA grants from the Planetary Atmospheres element, Outer Planets Research element, and the NASA Postdoctoral Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center, administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities through a contract with NASA.
The paper “13C and 15N fractionation of CH4/N2 mixtures during photochemical aerosol formation: Relevance to Titan,” was published in the journal Icarus.
Calibrating a Mass Spec for Studying Chemical EvolutionThe study focues on two calibrant series, polyalanine and polymalic acid. Credit: Forsythe et al. 2015
A recent study from the Center for Chemical Evolution will improve the accuracy and precision of data obtained by a form of mass spectrometry known as traveling-wave ion mobility-mass spectrometry.
Mass spectrometry is a prolific technique in chemistry that is used to study the chemical makeup of samples. Ion mobility spectrometry is a method for separating ionized molecules in the gas phase based on their molecular size and shape instead of their mass. For example, if two molecules had the same mass, but one was shaped like a rod and the other one was shaped like a sphere, mass spectrometry alone would not be able to differentiate them. However, coupling ion mobility with mass spectrometry would allow you to separate them based on their shape.
Mass spectrometry is an essential tool used by many astrobiologists on Earth, and has been included on numerous space missions. The team behind the study is currently using traveling-wave ion mobility-mass spectrometry to study the shape and structure of polymers that could have been precursors to protein on the early Earth.
The Center for Chemical Evolution is a joint effort supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the NASA Astrobiology Program. The study, “Collision cross section calibrants for negative ion mode traveling wave ion mobility-mass spectrometry,” was published in the journal Analyst.
Dating Meteor Impacts Requires More DataLunar zircon brought back by astronauts from the Apollo 17 mission. Photo credit: Apollo 17/Nicholas E. Timms.
A new study of zircon calls to question the dating methods and limited evidence that have been used to assume the dates of meteor crashes on the early moon and Earth. The story was published by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Scientists at UW-Madison looked at zircons from the Vredefort crater in South Africa where the meteor collision is estimated to have occurred around 2 billion years ago. While the zircon showed signs of shock from impact, the observed ages did not reflect the age of the incident so much as the age of the magma rocks the zircon formed inside. This has lead to the assertion that more context is needed before the measured age of lunar or terrestrial zircon, stripped out of rocks, can be directly correlated with time of impact.
The study, “A terrestrial perspective on using ex situ shocked zircon to date lunar impacts,” was published in Geology and funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the National Science Foundation, and the
SHRIMP and Microscopy and Microanalysis facilities at Curtin University, Australia.
CAREER, EMPLOYMENT & FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES
Opening for Supervisory Physical Scientist, AST Chemical and Biological Evolution at NASA Ames Research Center
Application Deadline: December 14, 2015
The Exobiology Branch of the Science Directorate at NASA Ames Research Center is seeking a Branch Chief. The incumbent is responsible for the technical and administrative functions of the Branch, including planning, coordinating, implementing, and performing research in exobiology, evolutionary biology, and astrobiology, as well as supervising Branch personnel.
To receive consideration, you must submit a resume to USAJOBS and answer NASA-specific questions: http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/422570100
The incumbent will serve as the Supervisor of the Exobiology Branch which includes providing occupational specific technical and administrative direction 50 percent of the time to three or more subordinate employees performing the work and functions of the organization; obtaining resources and identifying strategic objectives for the organization; defining jobs, selecting employees, and assigning work; defining technical work requirements and milestones; evaluating the organization and employee accomplishments.
The incumbent will perform research in the field of exobiology, specifically the nature, distribution, origin, and evolution of prebiotic molecular systems and protobiological processes, recognized as being unyielding to research analysis and that have been recognized as representing critical obstacles to any significant progress; determine the area of research and plan of attack in addressing priority agency issues.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville: Faculty Position in Planetary Petrology/Mineralogy/Geochemistry
Application Deadline: December 15, 2015
The Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at The University of Tennessee seeks to fill a faculty position in petrology/mineralogy/geochemistry with emphasis in planetary geoscience. The position is for an open-rank (tenure-track or tenured); we would prefer to select a candidate at the Associate or Full Professor level, but welcome applications for Assistant Professor. The position begins August 1, 2016. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is a Research I University and the flagship campus of the UT system. Information about the department may be found at: http://eps.utk.edu.
It focuses on geology and has an active emphasis on planetary research through its Planetary Geosciences Institute: http://web.utk.edu/~pgi.
Requirements for the position are: Ph.D. in geology or a related field, and demonstrated research experience in planetary geoscience.
To apply, please email the following to email@example.com: C.V., cover letter describing research and teaching experience and plans, and names of 4 references with contact information. Applications received by December 15, 2015 are ensured review, but earlier submission is encouraged. The position will remain open until filled. Questions about the position should be directed to H. McSween.
Cyanobacterial Evolution Postdoc Position at the Fournier Lab at MIT
Application Deadline: December 15, 2015
The Fournier Lab within the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences department at MIT is seeking qualified candidates for the position of Postdoctoral Associate for a 1-year appointment with possible extension, to begin in the Fall of 2015. Our group studies the co-evolution of microbes and planetary processes over geological timescales, investigating major questions in planetary history from a genomic perspective. Ongoing projects include microbial phylogenetics and phylometabolomics, calibration of microbial molecular clocks, horizontal gene transfer, ancestral sequence reconstruction, and genomic paleontology. Highly motivated, independent researchers with strong backgrounds in microbiology, phylogenetics, statistics, and computational biology/computer science are encouraged to apply.
A full time postdoctoral position to research cyanobacterial evolution (advised by T. Bosak, M. Polz and G. Fournier, MIT). The project aims to improve the sampling of the cyanobacterial phylum and the understanding of its evolution through:
1. Sequencing and annotation of the genomes of > 60 undersampled, but geologically and environmentally relevant cyanobacterial taxa;
2. Reconstruction of major genomic events (gene additions, duplications and losses) in cyanobacterial history;
3. Correlation of these data with major events in Earth history and correlation of events in the evolution of cyanobacteria and other organismal groups which may lack a fossil record.
The project is funded by the Simons Early Career Investigator grants in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution. Candidates with expertise in bioinformatics and/or microbial ecology and evolution are encouraged to apply.
CVs and three letters of recommendation should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Postdoctoral Fellowships at Harvard University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences/Origins of Life Initiative
Application due by December 20, 2015 to be reviewed by mid-January
Harvard University Postdoctoral Fellow positions 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.
Harvard has several positions available for recent Ph.D.s to become involved in experimental work on (1) Chemically Induced Cooperative Phenomena, (2) the Study of the Physics of Polymersomes, (3) Polymerization Induced Self-assembly and (4) Oscillatory Chemical Reactions.
Harvard also has positions in our group to work on (5) Computer Science Aspects of Chemical Systems. they are looking for individuals familiar with analytical as well as numerical experience in this (or an ancillary) topic and willing to establish a dialog with others already involved in ongoing experimental, theoretical and/or phenomenological work.
These positions will be initially awarded for one year and, contingent upon strong performance, may be renewed for up to two additional 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 email@example.com with copy to Ms. Sarah Dominique firstname.lastname@example.org. The three letters of recommendation must be sent directly from the authors to Juan Perez-Mercader. Applications received between November 24 and December 20, 2015 will be reviewed by mid January 2016. The positions can start as soon as January 1, 2016. For additional information you may address your specific questions by getting in touch with us through our web page e-mail link http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~topdownsynthbio/email.cgi
Call for Letters of Application for Membership on NASA’s Science Definition Team for Ice Giants Mission Studies
Application Deadline: December 31, 2015
The Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate plans to conduct a generic study of mission options, including science and technology options, for exploring the Ice Giant planets. The study will build upon, but not be limited to, the National Research Council’s Planetary Science Decadal Survey, entitled “Visions and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022” (available at http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/docs/Vision_and_Voyages-FINAL.pdf); the intent of this study is to provide information for the deliberative process for the next Decadal Survey. Important to this study will be the establishment of a Science Definition Team to guide the technical study team. NASA invites scientists and other qualified and interested individuals at U.S. institutions to apply for membership on the Ice Giants Science Definition Team (SDT).
Members of the Ice Giants SDT will provide the technical team and NASA with scientific assistance and direction during preliminary architecture assessment of missions to the Uranus and/or Neptune systems. Near-term activities of the SDT will include the establishment of prioritized science objectives and a realistic scientific concept of operations, development and assessment of alternative architectures, including model payload/instrument suites for proof of concept, and suggestions for threshold science objectives/measurements for viable missions within resource constraints provided by NASA. NASA will use the products of this study for planning purposes. The SDT will be formed in January 2016 and will be disbanded after the work is complete, approximately one year later.
The Ice Giants SDT will:
1. Identify and prioritize science objectives to be addressed by spaceflight mission(s) based upon recommendations from the 2013-2022 Decadal Survey, but also account for recent information and current state of the science.
2. Participate in mission studies designed to address those science objectives. Aspects of this participation will include:
– Science traceability, identification of measurements, and specification of model payload
– Science concept of operations
– Participation in tradeoffs among scientific value, cost, and risk
– Ranking of alternative architectures
– Identification of enabling/enhancing technologies
3. Assist in the preparation of study reports.
All reports and output materials of the study will be made publicly available. Participation in the Ice Giants SDT is open to all qualified and interested individuals.
SDT member selection will be coordinated with the Chairs. The selected members will have demonstrated expertise and knowledge in areas highly relevant to Ice Giant science and related technologies and instrumentation. NASA anticipates the selection of approximately seven to ten SDT members. Representative(s) from the NASA Planetary Science Division, and possibly other Agency representatives, may serve as ex officio members of the SDT.
Details Requested for SDT Membership:
Responses to this Call for Membership in the Ice Giants SDT shall be in the form of a Letter of Application. The Letter of Application should provide clearly defined evidence of the candidate’s relevant demonstrated experience and background, and may also contain a brief list of references to scientific or technical peer-reviewed papers the applicant has published that formally establish their position of scientific leadership in the community. References are not included in the page limit (given below). The letter should also contain a statement confirming the applicant’s time availability during the next twelve months to participate on the SDT, particularly if there are any major schedule constraints that may restrict engagement at critical times. The expected time commitment would include the following:
– One teleconference the first week after selection
– One face-to-face meeting in the later winter to early spring 2016
– Availability via phone and E-mail during mission study activities (at JPL) to address any science questions that arise and that cannot be handled by local scientists. We expect ~four detailed mission studies to be done as part of this effort.
– Teleconference to follow each mission study
– Preparation and review of materials for the final report (draft due June 2016, TBC).
– Additional teleconferences and face-to-face meetings as the SDT deems appropriate
Note that a significant amount of the interaction among the SDT is anticipated to be via E-mail and webex.
Letters of Application are invited only from individuals, and group applications will not be considered. In addition, collaborations and teams will not be considered.
Each Letter of Application, limited to one page, shall be submitted by E-mail no later than December 31, 2015 (11:59 p.m. EST), to Dr. Curt Niebur at the address below. The subject line of the E-mail should include “Ice Giants SDT”.
The issuance of this Call for Letters of Application does not obligate NASA to accept any of the applications. Any costs incurred by prospective investigators in preparing submissions in response to this Call are incurred completely at the submitter’s own risk.
Dr. Curt Niebur
Planetary Sciences Division
Science Mission Directorate
Call for Contributions in the Development of a Community-based Roadmap for NASA’s Planetary Data Services
Submission Deadline: January 5, 2016
NASA is preparing to work with the planetary science community to develop a Roadmap for its Planetary Data Services – the data and sample management architecture that supports the robotic exploration of the Solar System – particularly, the Planetary Data System. This Roadmap will address actions for the years 2017-2026. To this end, NASA is seeking input from the planetary and data science communities in the form of a Request For Information (RFI) designated NNH15ZDA012L that has been posted on NSPIRES.
The response to this RFI will be in the form of a PDF document uploaded via NSPIRES (see instructions in the full RFI on NSPIRES). Each response shall address a single topic relevant to the Planetary Data System or its potential integration with the Minor Planets Center, the Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office, or the Astrogeology Science Center. There is no limit on the number of responses that an individual or institution may submit.
NASA especially seeks input from the planetary and data science communities on the following topics:
1. What tools, resources, workflows, tutorials, and interfaces will future users expect or require?
2. How can the interaction between the PDS and data providers (missions and individual researchers) be improved in order to make the archiving process seamless and less costly (to both data providers and the PDS)?
3. How can the interaction between the PDS and data providers be improved to move data from the provider to the public as rapidly as possible?
4. What role should the PDS play, relative to other archiving alternatives (including scientific journals), in providing the public access to the data that is the product of NASA’s funded research and the basis of published scientific studies?
5. What is the highest priority need for integration between PDS data products and either cartographic products, sample material, or data from the Minor Planets Center (or all of them)?
6. What role should the PDS play in encouraging the development of higher-order data products and ensuring archive quality is quickly achieved?
7. Are there identifiable improvements to the current search capabilities of the PDS that would allow researchers improved access to data products and metadata?
Please refer to the full text of this RFI with instructions on NSPIRES at http://nspires.nasaprs.com/ by selecting Solicitations, choosing “Open” from the bulleted list on the left under “View Solicitations” and then searching on NNH15ZDA012L
Questions concerning this Request for Information may be addressed to Dr. Michael New at email@example.com..
Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) 2016 Summer Intern Program in Planetary Science
Application Deadline: January 8, 2016
The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) invites undergraduates with at least 50 semester hours of credit to experience cutting-edge research in the lunar and planetary sciences.
Summer interns will work one-on-one with a scientist at the LPI or at the NASA Johnson Space Center on a research project of current interest in lunar and planetary science. Furthermore, they will participate in peer-reviewed research, learn from top-notch planetary scientists, and preview various careers in science.
The 10-week program begins June 6, 2016, and ends on August 12, 2016. Selected students will receive a $5675.00 stipend; in addition, U.S. students will receive a $1000.00 travel stipend, and foreign nationals will receive a $1500.00 foreign travel reimbursement.
Applications are only accepted via the electronic application form found at the LPI’s intern website: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lpiintern/.
For additional information, contact:
Exploration Science Summer Intern Program
Application Deadline: January 15, 2016
The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) and NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) is hosting a special Exploration Science Summer Intern Program to build on the success of the former Lunar Exploration Summer Intern Program that was designed to evaluate possible landing sites on the Moon for robotic and human exploration missions. Over a five year period (2008–2012), teams of students worked with Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) science staff and their collaborators to produce A Global Lunar Landing Site Study to Provide the Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon. The program for 2016 is designed to have the same impact on future exploration activities, but has a broader scope that includes both the Moon and near-Earth asteroids. It is a unique opportunity to integrate scientific input with exploration activities in a way that mission architects and spacecraft engineers can use. Activities may involve assessments and traverse plans for a particular destination (e.g., on the lunar farside) or a more general assessment of a class of possible exploration targets (e.g., small near-Earth asteroids).
The 10-week program runs from May 23, 2016, through July 29, 2016. Selected interns will receive a $5675 stipend to cover the costs associated with being in Houston for the duration of the program. Additionally, U.S. citizens will receive up to $1000 in travel expense reimbursement and foreign nationals will receive up to $1500 in travel expense reimbursement.
Applications are only accepted using the electronic application form found at the LPI’s Exploration Science Summer Intern website: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration_intern/
Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences Professor and Department Head
Application Deadline: January 28, 2016
The Department of Geosciences, in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, invites applications from visionary, creative, and energetic leaders for the position of Department Head. With an international reputation for excellence, the department has 22 faculty members, 10 support staff, 2 instructors, 15 postdocs/research scientists, 70 graduate students and 130 undergraduates with research interests organized around interdisciplinary studies of processes, materials, life, hazards, water, and resources. With our many young faculty and support of new university initiatives including Beyond Boundaries http://www.beyondboundaries.vt.edu/, the new position offers a unique opportunity to reinvent the geological sciences for the 21st century. The main campus in Blacksburg and other campuses in Northern Virginia are well-positioned to foster interactions with academic and government organizations in the Washington DC metro region.
The successful applicant will be an advocate for the research and teaching missions of the department, will work to grow collaborations with groups across the university and nationally/ internationally, and will focus on achieving strategic goals within the department and university. Potential candidates must have a Ph.D. in Geosciences or closely related fields, demonstrated administrative and programmatic leadership experience, a broad understanding of geosciences, and exceptional professional achievements as evidenced by outstanding research. The appointment will be at the level of tenured Full Professor.
Interested candidates should submit a current CV, letter of interest and listing of four professional references upon applying through http://www.jobs.vt.edu posting number TR0150178 or via the link: https://listings.jobs.vt.edu/postings/62036. Review of applications will begin on Jan. 29, 2016 and will continue until the position is filled.
Inquiries regarding the position should be directed to Professor Shuhai Xiao, Search Committee Chair mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Department of Geosciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA; (540) 231-6521. Further information about the Department is available at http://www.geos.vt.edu/.
Assistant Professor, George Mason University, Extrasolar Planets
Application Deadline: January 29, 2016
The George Mason University, Department of Physics and Astronomy within the School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Science is accepting applications for a tenure-track position at the Assistant Professor-level in the field of Extrasolar Planets.
Responsibilities: The successful applicant will teach courses in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and develop an extrasolar planets research program.
George Mason University is located in Fairfax, Va., in the suburban Washington, D.C., area. This location offers prospects for collaboration at several nearby institutions and federal laboratories, such as the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Carnegie Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the National Institute of Science and Technology, and the Naval Research Laboratory.
Qualifications: Candidates with expertise in all areas of observational and theoretical studies of extrasolar planets—including detection, characterization, and their formation and evolution—will be considered. Applicants should have a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy as well as postdoctoral experience, and show promise for developing an independent and externally funded research program.
For full consideration, applicants must apply for position number F9967z at: http://jobs.gmu.edu/postings/36094
Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Microbial Diversity Summer School
Application Deadline: February 1, 2016
The course is an intensive six-and-a-half-week research and training experience for graduate or postdoctoral students, as well as established investigators, who want to become competent in microbiological techniques for working with a broad range of microbes, and in approaches for recognizing the metabolic, phylogenetic, and genomic diversity of cultivated and as yet uncultivated bacteria. Admission is limited to 20 students. More information and the application link are available at: http://www.mbl.edu/education/summer-courses/microbial-diversity/.
NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) Program for 2016-2017 Academic Year
New application deadline: February 1, 2016
Renewal application deadline: March 15, 2016
The Planetary Research Program seeks proposals for their graduate fellowship program. The applications should be solicited by accredited U.S. universities on behalf of individuals pursuing Masters or Doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees in Earth and space sciences, or related disciplines.
The program invites a wide range of investigations into the nature and origin of the celestial bodies in our Solar System and whether life exists beyond Earth. Topics may include, but are not limited to:
– the formation and evolution of the Solar System and planetary systems in general
– planetary bodies, satellites, and small bodies within planetary systems
– extraterrestrial materials which enhance the scientific return of missions through the analysis of data collected during those missions
More information is available at the NSPIRES website.
For further information contact for NESSF Earth Science Research:
or for NESSF Heliophysics Research, Planetary Science Research, and Astrophysics Research:
Travel Grants for Summer School “Volcanism, Plate Tectonics, Hydrothermal Vents and Life
Application Deadline: March 15, 2016
The course aims to give participants a thorough introduction into influence of volcanism, plate tectonics on life and the role of hydrothermal vents in the emergence of life. It is co-organized by the European Astrobiology Campus, the Nordic Network of Astrobiology and the COST Action “Origins and Evolution of Life in the Universe”. The summer school, which is held in the picturesque town of Angra de Heroísmo (UNESCO World Cultural Heritage) will include:
- Lectures by leading scientists in the field covering a cornucopia of different subjects
– Field excursions to geologically interesting sights (volcanic areas, hot springs, lava caves, etc.)
– Characterisation of microbesin lava caves and hot springs via Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
– Poster sessions
– Participant-led discussions
Bursaries including travel grants are available for students and early career investigators affiliated to universities in most European countries. For further information about the summer school please check the website: http://www.nordicastrobiology.net/Azores2016/
ROSES-15 Planetary Early Career Fellowships
Application Closing Date: April 30, 2016
The Early Career Fellowship (ECF) program supports the development of individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers and stimulates research careers in the areas supported by the Planetary Sciences Division. This program is based on the idea that supporting key individuals is a critical mechanism for achieving high impact science that will lead the field forward with new concepts, technologies, and methods.
This program consists of two components with two different submission procedures: the first is the one-page application to be an “Early Career Fellow” (ECF) and the second is the subsequent submission of a seven-page proposal for start-up funds by a previously selected ECF.
More information on requirements and the application procedure is available on the NSPIRES website.
Questions concerning this program element may be directed to: Doris Daou at Doris.Daou@nasa.gov.
NASA Planetary Science Division Seeks Volunteer Reviewers for ROSES Proposals
The Planetary Science Division at the Science Mission Directorate is seeking subject matter experts to serve as mail-in and/or panel meeting reviewers of research proposals submitted to ROSES-2015. We currently have posted new volunteer reviewer forms for:
Links to open review forms may always be found at http://science.nasa.gov/researchers/volunteer-review-panels/
SETI Institute Postdoctoral Research Opportunity
The SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center (Mountain View, CA) is seeking applicants for a two-year Postdoctoral Research Associate in the field of Astrobiology and Planetary Science. As a University of Wisconsin-Madison NAI Team Member, research will focus on the preservation and recovery of biomarkers using samples collected from planetary analog environments and samples from International Space Station radiation exposure experiments.
The position is located at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) and will require close collaboration with SETI Institute and ARC researchers in the Planetary Systems and Exobiology Branches, as well as NAI team members at UW-Madison and other institutions.
Qualified candidates will have a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline (e.g., Chemistry, Geochemistry, Biology) and extensive experience in Instrumental Methods of Analysis. Experience in UV/Vis/IR spectroscopy, LCMS and GCMS is desired. For complete information and to apply please go to: https://home.eease.adp.com/recruit/?id=14938341
University of Wisconsin-Madison Postdoctoral Position Available
An opening is available for a post-doctoral position at the ICP-TIMS Isotope Laboratory, UW-Madison in stable isotope studies (Mg, Si, Fe) in experimental systems and the Archean rock record. The Initial appointment is for one year and is renewable for subsequent years. The qualified candidate will have a Ph.D. and prior experience in MC-ICP-MS analysis. Prior work in “non-traditional” stable isotopes is advantageous, as is experience in experimental studies, but not required.
Three Post-Doctoral Positions in the Reaction Dynamic Group, Department of Chemistry at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa
The Reaction Dynamics Group at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa invites applications for three postdoctoral positions. The appointment period is initially for one year, but can be renewed annually based on availability of funds and satisfactory progress. The salary is competitive and commensurate with experience. Successful applicants should have a strong background in one or more of the following: experimental reaction dynamics, molecular beams, low temperature condensed phase, soft matter, UHV technology, pulsed laser systems. Programming experience in labview is desirable. A description of our current research group can be found at http://www.chem.hawaii.edu/Bil301/welcome.html.
Position I: Reaction Dynamics. The prime directive of the experiments is to investigate the formation of carbonaceous and silicon-bearing molecules in extreme environments ranging from combustion flames, CVD processes, and interstellar/circumstellar environments exploiting the crossed molecular beams method.
Position II: Soft Matter & Material Sciences. The main objective of these experimental studies is to explore the fundamental mechanisms and electron transfer processes involved in the reaction and ignition of prototype boron-based energetic ionic liquids (EILs) doped with passivated nanoparticles in levitated droplets.
Position III: Planetary Chemistry. The goal of these experiments is to probe the formation of water and/or hydroxyl radicals via interaction of the solar wind particles such as keV protons and deuterons with silicates at lunar temperatures. Reaction products will be probed via condensed phase spectroscopy and photoionization of the subliming molecules.
Solid communication skills in English (written, oral), a publication record in internationally circulated, peer-reviewed journals, and willingness to work in a team are mandatory. Only self-motivated and energetic candidates are encouraged to apply. Applicants must demonstrate their capability to prepare manuscripts for publications independently. Please send a letter of interest, three letters of recommendation, CV, and publication list to:
Prof. Ralf I. Kaiser
Department of Chemistry
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Honolulu, HI 96822-2275, USA
Senior Program Officer, Science and Technology for Sustainability at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC
The Science and Technology for Sustainability (STS) program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is recruiting a Senior Program Officer to contribute to the growth, management, and leadership of program activities. The program examines issues at the intersection of the three sustainability pillars—social, economic, and environmental—and aims to strengthen science for decision-making related to sustainability. We seek an individual interested in working on a broad range of activities and issues in support of the program’s mission. A full position description and application instructions are available at http://chk.tbe.taleo.net/chk02/ats/careers/requisition.jsp?org=NAS&cws=1&rid=8201. More information about the STS program is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/sustainability/index.htm.
Open Rank Environmental Microbiology Faculty Position at Montana State University
Application Open Until Adequate Pool Established
The Department of Microbiology and Immunology offers a dynamic research and teaching environment with state-of-the–art facilities for biochemistry, flow cytometry, genomics, proteomics, cell biology, microbiology and bioinformatics.
The faculty position to be filled is a full-time tenure track appointment with primary responsibilities in research, teaching, and service/outreach. The successful candidate will become an integral part of the Microbiology and Immunology department and potentially research centers on campus. The position is 50% research, 40% teaching, and 10% service and will be funded by the College of Agriculture and the College of Letters and Science. The new hire will be responsible for developing and obtaining extramural research funding for a nationally competitive, independent research program that will make significant contributions to the understanding of microbe-environment interactions, microbial biology/ecology, and/or microbial engineering. The faculty member will participate in teaching undergraduate and/or graduate courses in their area of specialization and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students. They will also be responsible for providing service as applicable to the department, college, university, and scientific community. Opportunities to participate in the cooperative human medical education program with the University of Washington (WWAMI program) or the Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine (WIMU program) may also be possible.
More information and application instructions are available at https://jobs.montana.edu/postings/2601.
December 11 – Deadline for the VEXAG Student Travel Grants for International Venus Science Conference http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=48088
December 11 – Abstract Submission Deadline for the Water in the Universe: From Clouds to Oceans http://www.congrexprojects.com/2016-events/16a06/call-for-abstracts
December 14 – “Participation/Poster Deadline for the 4th ELSI Symposium – Three Experiments in Biological Origins: Early Earth, Venus and Mars http://www.elsi.jp/en/research/activities/symposium/2016/01/sympo-04.html
December 19 – Application Deadline for the Gorden Research Seminar: Origins of Life, Understanding Life’s Origin by Diving Outside of the Pool http://www.grc.org/programs.aspx?id=17244
December 31 – Deadline for Application for Membership on NASA’s Science Definition Team for Ice Giants Mission Studies http://nai.nasa.gov/articles/2015/11/18/call-for-letters-of-application-for-membership-on-nasas-science-definition-team-for-ice-giants-mission-studies/
January 3 – Application Deadline for the Geobiology Gordon Research Conference: Reconstructing Processes from Genes to the Geologic Record https://www.grc.org/programs.aspx?id=17332
January 15 – Application Deadline for the Exploration Science Summer Intern Program http://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration_intern/?view=application
January 22 – Abstract Submission Deadline for the International Venus Conference 2016 http://venus2016.uk/
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