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2000 Annual Science Report

NASA Ames Research Center Reporting  |  JUL 1999 – JUN 2000

Astrobiology Education and Public Outreach -- JSC

Project Summary

The Astrobiology Education and Public Outreach team at JSC is active on three major fronts. Our core group of master teachers and scientists continues to work together on the design and testing of Astrobiology education products. The team has developed a portable public display and a web site to tell the story of Astrobiology and the specific role of biomarkers research. We also present specific Astrobiology topics in individual classrooms, teacher workshops, and national conventions. The JSC research group also supports visiting researchers ranging from high school students to postdoctoral fellows.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Formal Education: Education Products and Teacher Training (dm)

We conducted a joint Astromaterials / Astrobiology Teacher Intern project in June-July 1999. Numerous JSC scientists mentored eight 8-12th grade teachers so that the teachers could understand our science research. The teachers then worked with the JSC Education and Public Outreach team to develop a series of classroom activities that could be used in the high school physics, chemistry, geology, and biology curriculum. The activities were linked through a timeline and common thread of Martian Meteorite Mysteries. They ask and answer the common questions: How do we know they are from Mars? How did they get here? What are they made of? How old are they? How can we know if there are fossils in the meteorites or extant life on Mars? The teachers have been testing and revising the activities in their classes during the school year.

Four teachers will return to JSC in the summer of 2000 to revise and finalize the high school activity package and two 4-6th grade teachers will prepare an upper-elementary school / middle school version. The activities will be available soon on our website. We also plan to prepare a video and / or CD-ROM to accompany the activities. The presentation will include interviews with the scientists and lab tours. In CD-ROM form, the product can be an interactive matrix, which will allow educators or students to follow either the timeline through all disciplines or a stream based on single science discipline. Our scientists and educator team took an active part in assessing and testing the activities developed by TERC for NAI.

The Education and Public Outreach team conducted numerous 1-3 hour teacher workshops at JSC Education Office teacher workshops, and at national meetings of the National Science Teachers Association and National Conference of Teachers of Mathematics. We conducted 2 hr and 1 day workshops in collaboration with Space Center Houston (JSC visitor center) and the Lunar and Planetary Institute / Texas Space Grant Consortium. A two-day in-service workshop was conducted for educators in Clear Creek Independent School District.

Many of our scientists participated in school-related activities: speakers, career days, engineer’s week, judging science fairs. Most notable was a national project using Mars soil simulant that was coordinated by local teacher Rene De La Fuente.
Public Exhibits and Events

JSC has two annual events, which we support with several Astrobiology and Astromaterials exhibits. The 1-day Open House in August had 120,000 attendees. The JSC Inspection Day in November, a 3-day technology open house, had 5000 participants. Essentially all of our scientists interacted with the public at one or both of these events. Other presentations were made at a variety of school and public settings for several thousand students and families.

We supported several national professional and space advocacy meetings: National Space Society Mars Landing Event; Geological Society of America annual meeting in Denver during October with a Planetary Division Mars meteorite display and Mars geology exhibit; Planetary Society Planetfest near JPL in December with speakers, a Mars meteorite display, and Astromaterials-Astrobiology exhibit.
Postdoctoral Fellows

The Astrobiology group provided partial support for two scientists as they transitioned from National Research Council post-doctoral fellowships at JSC to more permanent positions. Dr. Andrew Steele is continuing his analyses of fungal contamination in meteorites and trace organic biomarkers as an Adjunct Professor at Montana State University. Dr. Frances Westall is continuing to document fossilized bacteria and biofilms in Archaean rocks from around the world as a Visiting Postdoctoral Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute.
Graduate Students

The Astrobiology group continues to support two Ph.D. candidates, Mary Sue Bell and Sean Guidry, in the Geology Department of the University of Houston. Ms. Bell is conducting an experimental study of the effects of impact shock pressures on minerals. Mr. Guidry is studying the preservation of microorganisms and biomarkers in silica and carbonate hot spring deposits. Preliminary results from both studies were presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference and the Astrobiology Science Conference.
Undergraduates / High School Students

The Astrobiology group supported three undergraduate and high school student research projects. Colin Griffin (University of Liverpool) quantified and identified the microbial population in the JSC Mars-1 martian soil simulant. Ashleigh Nankivell (Bellaire High School) and Nicole Andre (Brown) studied the microbiota of a sulfur spring. Andrea DeStefano, Jill Ford, and Seana Winsor (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) documented microbes in a high-temperature, radioactive subsurface environment. The results of all three projects were presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

    David McKay
    Project Investigator

    Marilyn Lindstrom

    Jaclyn Allen
    Education and Public Outreach Staff

    Anita Dodson
    Unspecified Role

    Lisa Prejean
    Unspecified Role

    Objective 6.0
    Define how ecophysiological processes structure microbial communities, influence their adaptation and evolution, and affect their detection on other planets.

    Objective 7.0
    Identify the environmental limits for life by examining biological adaptations to extremes in environmental conditions.

    Objective 8.0
    Search for evidence of ancient climates, extinct life and potential habitats for extant life on Mars.