Astrobiology

A New look at what Life is and how it began

Life has two unique processes. The first is precision assembly, in which the shape of a molecule is selected, and it is “glued” to another precisely selected molecule. The second is when the assembler-glue-selector device exactly copies itself. The first item produced must be a structure so as to be survival-selected. In turn this selection needs to have the eventual effect of selecting the assembler-glue-selector. The system requires the development of two different polymers, one for structures, the other for information transfer.

The Evolving Intersection of Physics and Biology

 In April 1953, Watson and Crick largely defined the program of 20^th century biology: obtaining the blueprint of life encoded in the DNA. Fifty years later, in 2003, the sequencing of the human genome was completed. Like any major scientific breakthrough, the sequencing of the human genome raised many more questions than it answered. Dr. Liphardt will discuss some of the big open problems in cell and developmental biology, and he'll explain why approaches, tools, and ideas from the physical sciences are currently reshaping biological research.

Astrobiology of Basaltic glass in the oceanic basins: a source for early life nutrients?

Brad Bailey will explain how basaltic glass could be a source of energy and/or nutrients for early life. This has enormous Astrobiological implications as recent work has shown that Earth’s late heavy bombardment period would not have been energetic enough to completely sterilize the Earth’s surface and life may have been preserved through this period by residing within the deep crust.

The EvoGrid: Building an Origin of Life Simulator & Its Implications for Life, the Universe and Everything

Bruce Damer will present the current state of the EvoGrid, a worldwide, multi-disciplinary project to simulate the chemical origin of life on Earth or as it might have occurred elsewhere in ours or other universes. When operational in 2010 the prototype EvoGrid will employ a central grid of computers to generate "digital primordial soups" and then, inspired by SETI, an even larger set of observer computers operating as @Home screen savers will be employed to look for signs of emergent complexity within the soups.

The Inner Structure of a Floating Water Bridge

When high voltage is applied to distilled water filled into two beakers close to each other, a water connection forms spontaneously, giving the impression of a floating water bridge (Fuchs et al. 2007 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. *40* 6112-4, 2008 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. *41* 185502, Woisetschläger et al. 2009 Exp. Fluids 2009 (accepted)). This phenomenon is of special interest, since it comprises a number of phenomena currently tackled in modern water science.

Detecting Organics using Fluorescence Spectroscopy

Many important organic molecules fluoresce strongly enough to allow for their detection in terrestrial soils at the ppm level or better. Dr. Bramall will discuss a method has advantages over other methods of detecting organics in that it requires no reagents, is very quick, requires no sample handling, and can be rather specific. He has have developed several instruments and instrument concepts that will be presented.

Pavilion Lake - Diving Deep to get us to the Moon and Mars

The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) is an international, multi-disciplinary, science and exploration effort to explain the origin of freshwater microbialites [link] in Pavilion Lake, British Columbia, Canada. Fossil microbialites represent some of the earliest remnants of life on ancient Earth, and were common from ~2.5 billion to 540 million years ago. Today, microbialites are found in what have been deemed ‘extreme’ environments.

Developing a Roadmap of Astrobiology Societal Issues

SETI Principle Investigators Margaret Race and Rocco Mancinelli are convening an interdisciplinary workshop at the Institute from Feb 9-11 that includes experts from a range of disciplines, including law, ethics, policy, theology, philosophy, social sciences, education, communication, and astrobiology sciences. Supported by a grant from the NAI, the invited participants are charged with systematically analyzing the diversity of societal issues that arise in Astrobiology research and space exploration.

Nuclear Weapons and Space Weapons

Our panellists will present three 15 minute technical and scientific presentations on standard space and nuclear weapons capabilities and effectiveness, national requirements and intentions, existing conventions and potential future agreements, followed by 15 minutes for questions and discussion. All discussions will be on unclassified or declassified material.

The Galactic Planetary Census

During the past decade, over three hundred planets have been discovered orbiting stars beyond the Sun. The catalog of planets is rapidly pushing down to ever-lower masses, and the discovery of potentially habitable planets is likely no more than a year or two away. In this talk, Greg will focus on how the emerging and distinct population of "Super Earth" type planets is giving an advance indication of both the frequency of occurrence and the mechanisms of formation for terrestrial-mass planets in the local galactic neighborhood.

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