Notice: This is an archived and unmaintained page. For current information, please browse

2000 Annual Science Report

Pennsylvania State University Reporting  |  JUL 1999 – JUN 2000

Astrobiology Education and Public Outreach

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Teachers Workshop: “Astrobiology: The Origins and Early Evolution of Life”, June 28 – July 2, 1999. This purpose of this workshop is to introduce astrobiology to high school science teachers. About 15 high school teachers, mostly from Pennsylvania, participated in the ~50 hours course involving both lectures and hand-on experiments. Lecturers: J. Kasting, J. G. Ferry, S. B. Hedges, and R. Minard.

Summer Opportunities and Research for Space (SOARS). June 20 – July 2, 1999. SOARS is a two-week residential research experience for upper-level high school students. Two SOARS students worked on a research project in Blair Hedges’ lab.

Women In Science and Engineering Research (WISER). Fall semester 1999 and Spring semester 2000. The WISER program allows first year women students to gain research experience by working with Penn State faculty and graduate students in labs across the campus. Four students worked on astrobiology-related projects in the laboratories of Hedges, Freeman, and Ohmoto.

WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) Week for High School Students July 19-23, 1999. This is a week-long residential program for high school senior students aimed at introducing various fields in science and engineering. About 15 students from the Eastern states participated in ~20 hours laboratory research projects related to astrobiology under the supervision of H. Ohmoto, R. Minard, J. Frankel, L. Liermann, D. Walizer, Y. Watanabe, and J. Lamberski

WPSX television program. “What in the News” segment featuring Astrobiology, March 2000; Provided scientific kits for distribution to teachers following airing of this program.

WPSX Open House Feature. May 6, 2000. WPSX annual Open House for kids revolved this year around the Astrobiology activities. About 300 children participated in the program.

REVEL program. Partial support for a post-cruise workshop for the teachers taken to sea in 1998 and 1999 as part of the REVEL project, also known locally as “Take a Teacher to Sea”. Approximately 25 persons from PA, NY and WA states were at PSU on April 28 – 30 for the workshop directed by Dr. Charles Fisher.

Marsfest. Penn State “Marsfest”: A public event to highlight the arrival of the Mars Polar Lander at the red planet. Co-sponsored by Penn State Astrobiology Research Center, NASA’s PA Space Grant Consortium, Penn State’s Eberly College of Science, Penn State/Central PA Mars Society Chapter, and the National Space Society Central PA Chapter. Coordinated by Dr. Lisa Brown.

Public Radio Program. Martin Schoonen was interviewed for a program entitled “To the best of our knowledge”. It centered on Astrobiology and highlighted PSARC. The lecture was recorded on video and will be available from the NYSCORT site in the future.

Space Day 2000 at Penn State. On April 8, 2000 PSARC participated in Space Day at Penn State. Approximately 500 children and adults attended the event. PSARC brochures and NAI materials were distributed. Bert Olsson and Trent Schindler facilitated an alien drawing activity that encouraged the children to ponder what an alien would look like, what it might eat and how it would see. The drawings are available online at

Undergraduate and Graduate Courses in Astrobiology. A 3-credit seminar course on Astrobiology for undergraduates (GSc/Bio 497A) and a 2-credit seminar course on Astrobiology for graduate students (GSc/Bio 597A) were given during the Fall semester, 1999. Most of the PIs, staff, and graduate students of PSARC and many other students participated in these seminars.

Astrobiology Lecture Series â?? “Frontiers of Science featuring Astrobiology: Looking for Life in the Universe” Jan. 29 â?? Feb. 26, 2000. Sponsored by the Eberly College of Science, organized by Dr. J. Kasting. The speakers were James Kasting, Janet Siefert (Rice University), Paul Hoffman (Harvard University), Bruce Jakosky (U. of Colorado), Blair Hedges (Penn State), and Chris Chiba (Stanford). The lectures, held on Saturday mornings, attracted about 300 audience of all levels.

Astrobiology Lectures at Penn State. During the period of Sept. 28, 1999 â?? April 30, 2000, PSARC sponsored lectures by the following speakers: Roger Summons (CSIRO/WHOI),
Everett Shock (Washington University), Kenneth Towe (Smithsonian Institute), Hiroshi Ohmoto (Penn State), Murray Hitzman (CO School of Mines), George Cody (Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institute of Washington), Bruce Simonson (Oberlin University), Mark Sephton (Open University, United Kingdom), and Ariel Anbar (University of Rochester).

PSARC Members’ Presentations at Other Institutions. The following members presented invited lectures related to Astrobiology at various institutions: H. Ohmoto at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, at Univ. of Western Australia, and at Millersville State College; J. F. Kasting at Harvard University, at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, and at Cess Climate symposium La Jolla, CA ; R. D. Minard at Univ. of Pittsburgh-Johnstown; M. Schoonen at Carnegie Institution of Washington, at RPI, and at University of Wisconsin-Madison; G. Ferry at University of Delaware; S. Blair Hedges at University of Pennsylvania, at University of New York, Stony Brook, and NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Seminar Series; L.R. Kump at Cornell Univ., at Bucknell Univ., and at Lehigh Univ.; M. Bau at Univ. of Pittsburgh.

Most of the above activities will be continued next year.

    Hiroshi Ohmoto
    Project Investigator

    Michael Arthur

    Susan Brantley

    Jean Brenchley

    Rosemary Capo

    James Ferry

    Katherine Freeman

    S. Blair Hedges

    James Kasting

    Lee Kump

    Robert Minard

    Masatoshi Nei

    Mark Patzkowsky

    Martin Schoonen

    Brian Stewart

    Objective 1.0
    Determine whether the atmosphere of the early Earth, hydrothermal systems or exogenous matter were significant sources of organic matter.

    Objective 2.0
    Develop and test plausible pathways by which ancient counterparts of membrane systems, proteins and nucleic acids were synthesized from simpler precursors and assembled into protocells.

    Objective 3.0
    Replicating, catalytic systems capable of evolution, and construct laboratory models of metabolism in primitive living systems.

    Objective 4.0
    Expand and interpret the genomic database of a select group of key microorganisms in order to reveal the history and dynamics of evolution.

    Objective 5.0
    Describe the sequences of causes and effects associated with the development of Earth's early biosphere and the global environment.

    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.

    Objective 9.0
    Determine the presence of life's chemical precursors and potential habitats for life in the outer solar system.

    Objective 10.0
    Understand the natural processes by which life can migrate from one world to another. Are we alone in the Universe?

    Objective 11.0
    Determine (theoretically and empirically) the ultimate outcome of the planet-forming process around other stars, especially the habitable ones.

    Objective 12.0
    Define climatological and geological effects upon the limits of habitable zones around the Sun and other stars to help define the frequency of habitable planets in the universe.

    Objective 13.0
    Define an array of astronomically detectable spectroscopic features that indicate habitable conditions and/or the presence of life on an extrasolar planet.

    Objective 14.0
    Determine the resilience of local and global ecosystems through their response to natural and human-induced disturbances.

    Objective 15.0
    Model the future habitability of Earth by examining the interactions between the biosphere and the chemistry and radiation balance of the atmosphere.