A theoretical instrument that would search for individual microbes on the surface of Mars.

International Summer School in Astrobiology

The Josep Comas i Solà International Astrobiology Summer School is held annually in Santander, Spain.

The Josep Comas i Solà International Astrobiology Summer School is co-sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Centro de Astrobiologia. Held annually in Santander, Spain, it has become a tradition in the astrobiology community. The week-long program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows provides lectures from international experts, round-table discussions, student projects, night-sky observations, and a half-day field trip to a nearby site of astrobiological interest.


The Josep Comas i Solà International Astrobiology Summer School is held annually in Santander, Spain.
The Josep Comas i Solà International Astrobiology Summer School is held annually in Santander, Spain.Image credit: Centro de Astrobiologia.

Searching for Life on Mars: Techniques and Challenges

In 2021, three different space missions have successfully arrived at Mars, including the landing in Jezero crater by the NASA’s Perseverance rover, which is expected to significantly advance our search for life on the Red Planet. Perseverance is the first step of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission and will collect and cache samples for future return to Earth, where they can be analyzed in our laboratories. The Perseverance rover carries seven instruments to conduct important science and technology investigations while on the surface, including for the first time measurements using a Deep UV fluorescence and Raman mapping spectrometer able to detect organic molecules and their spatial distribution. Although the results alone cannot prove that biosignatures are present, they will be able to identify carbon-containing compounds and help classify contained organic functional groups. In parallel, the European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars mission, which includes the Rosalind Franklin rover, is scheduled to launch in 2022.

The 2021 International Summer School in Astrobiology will review and assess the types of techniques that are necessary for detection of biosignatures on Mars, including Raman spectroscopy, the isotopic and chirality analyses that Rosalind Franklin rover will perform, and the advanced techniques needed to analyze samples both in-situ and in Earth-based laboratories. The central question will be “how can we unequivocally detect biosignatures on Mars?” and the discussions will involve in-situ rovers, sample collecting and return, laboratory analyses on Earth, and the experiments that future human explorers may be able to perform. The lectures will be focused on instrumentation and techniques. In addition to lectures, during the week the students will participate in discussions about the theme, prepare and present group projects, and take part in an excursion to a relevant geological site near Santander.

Dates: Monday, September 6 through Friday, September 10, 2021, contingent on travel approval.

The application deadline is Thursday, April 1, 2021, and selections will be made by May 1, 2021

The school is primarily aimed at graduate students in science or engineering, but is open to postdoctoral fellows and advanced undergraduates with research experience in the origin of life and astrobiology. Applicants requesting NASA Astrobiology Program support must be affiliated with US institutions.

To apply:

Questions can be directed to Melissa Kirven at Melissa.kirven@nasa.gov.

The participation of students from ESA Member States, Canada and Slovenia can be funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). Furthermore, students enrolled in Universities from European Union (as well as from other countries belonging to the European Higher Education Area, EHEA: http://www.ehea.info/page-members) could also be directly funded by the UIMP (Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo). Interested students please contact Victor Parro (parrogv@cab.inta-csic.es) for further details. The application deadline is TBD.