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2012 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

Executive Summary


Water is the medium in which the chemistry of all life on Earth takes place and is likely to be equally important for Astrobiology in general. Our research combines a set of interdisciplinary studies that range from the interstellar medium to the interior of planet Earth, all designed around “Water and Habitable Worlds”. We explore the location and characteristics of habitable worlds, the role of water in the formation of the molecules of life, how these materials evolve in the early solar system environment and how they are delivered to Earthlike planets that exist in habitable (life supporting) zones around their central stars. Our work extends to an investigation of life in Earth’s extreme environments and how the fingerprints left by life might translate to observable “biosignatures” indicative of life elsewhere. Below are our key projects this award will benefit. Our 5-year plan includes the following research areas:

  • We don’t know where the water on Earth came from. It may have arrived trapped as gas adsorbed on dust grains as the planet accumulated mass, or it may have formed via chemical reactions on the early magma ocean, or water may have been delivered exogenously. Understanding the relative roles of each source will require astronomical observations, ice laboratory experiments, chemical and dynamical models as well as geochemical observations. The D/H ratio of Earth, including its bulk value in the mantle, crust, and hydrosphere, and its primordial value in the deep mantle, using rocks from the Hawai’i and Iceland mantle plumes and measurements of nominally anhydrous and hydrous phases synthesized in the laboratory and thought to be important reservoirs of water in the mantle;
  • We are exploring ice chemistry in our Solar System, using ultrahigh vacuum, ultracold laboratory experiments, astronomical observations, and modeling to understand how primitive materials are processed as the system evolves, leading to life’s precursor molecules;
  • Main Belt Comets, as representatives of a novel class of icy bodies that may have contributed water to Earth, represent a unique and accessible source of volatiles. We are using the new Pan STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Maui to discover members of this class, and then characterizing the activity, and physical properties of these bodies. This has lead to the development of an in situ space mission concept.
  • Thermal and aqueous evolution of the parent bodies of primitive chondritic meteorites are being be investigated using the Cameca 1280 ion microprobe at UH to measure oxygen isotopes and the daughter products of shortlived radionuclides, to elucidate the history of ices and water on these bodies that may have contributed the major amount of water to Earth;
  • We are exploring the microbial habitats in Earth’s subseafloor environments, along the midocean ridge axis and flanks and in subduction zones, as ikely analogues for extraterrestrial habitats for life on basaltic and ultramafic substrates, in our Solar System and beyond;
  • We are exploring innovative new astronomical techniques for detecting water, volatiles and potential biosignatures in both our solar system and in extrasolar planetary atmospheres;
  • The VYSOS project telescopes in Hawai’i and Chile is surveying tens of thousands of young stars for a decade or longer, to understand how stars and planetary systems form and to search for newborn transiting planets;
  • Amino acid combinations and their effect on protein folding will be investigated, using theoretical modeling to resolve why most terrestrial life uses a highly restricted set of only 20 amino acids;
  • We are creating a new, integrative knowledge framework for doing research in astrobiology, based on open XML standards, that will enable interdisciplinary collaboration within the NAI.

The Team and Infrastructure

Personnel – During this reporting period we have had an exciting influx of new talent, adding 2 graduate students, 2 postdoctoral fellows, a NASA NPP fellow and a new faculty member joined the Institute for Astronomy and became a member of our team. Five of our postdocs left the team to take on new positions, and we wish them the best. In addition, former postdoc Josh Walawender rejoined us briefly for a few months before taking up a new permanent position. The new team members join our continuing 6 postdoctoral fellows, and 7 graduate students.

New arrivals:

Figure 1

New arrivals

  • Megan Ansdell – graduate student working on early solar system volatiles and near earth objects
  • Laurie Urban – graduate student working on comets and small bodies, with interests in extra solar planetary systems
  • Josh Walawender – Univ. of Hawai’i at Hilo staff, joined us as a consultant for the VYSOS telescope project for a two months before taking up a position with the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea.
  • HsinFang Chiang – new postdoctoral fellow arriving in 2011 Nov. from the Univ. of Chicago to work on star formation with Bo Reipurth in getting the VYSOS telescope facility online.
  • Brendan Hermalyn – new postdoctoral fellow arriving in January from Brown University to work with the team on impact delivery and removal of volatiles to the early earth. Brendan also brings considerable mission and engineering experience to the team.
  • Robert Bowers – joined us in March from the University of Colorado to work with Jim Cowen on the biogeochemistry of the subseafloor.
  • Patricia Doyle – a new postdoc joining us in June from the Imperial College in London, specializing in water in the early solar system and experimental petrology.
  • Svetalana Berdyugina – a new NASA NPP fellow joined us from Freiburg, Germany, to work on detecting water and biosignatures in exoplanet atmospheres, and in the solar system.
  • Andrew Howard – new Institute for Astronomy faculty member, joining us from UC Berkeley. Andrew specializes in extrasolar planet detection, characterization and formation. He has also worked on algorithms for exoplanet research, spectrometer design and optical SETI.

Departing Postdoctoral fellows:

  • Chris Bennett (ice chemistry) to work with Thom Orlando at GA Tech
  • Kaori Jogo (cosmochemistry) departed for family leave in February.
  • Alberto Robador (biogeochemistry) to USC
  • Gal Sarid (thermal modeling of icy bodies) to Harvard University.

A selfassessment of our team has shown that the interdisciplinary components of our research are successful largely as a consequence of our postdoc / Water hole experiment where the postdocs share an office environment. This is attached to our seminar room—the focus of group activities. This is starting to really draw graduate students interested in interdisciplinary research to the Institute for Astronomy, as fully 50% of the incoming class of students listed “astrobiology” as their primary research interest.

Prizes and Awards – Nader Haghighipour has been awarded a Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researcher by the Humboldt organization in Germany. This is a prestigious fellowship and very hard to get. The fellowship is for 1.5 years during which I will spend one year at the University of Tuebingen and 6 months at MPI in Heidelberg to work on planet formation in and around binary star systems.

UHNAI Scientist Ralf I. Kaiser was elected Fello/ of the American Physical Society at its November 2011 meeting “For pioneering experimental investigations of the chemical evolution of the Solar System and the Interstellar medium, using crossed molecular beams and surface scattering to probe the underlying phenomena on the most fundamental, microscopic level.” Kaiser’s research focuses on the formation of astrobiologically important molecules in interstellar and Solar System ices and on bimolecular gas phase reactions relevant to the chemical processing of planetary atmospheres, the interstellar medium, combustion systems, and rocket propulsion systems.

Infrastructure – We purchased and set up a 3Dmini CAVE 3D visualization system during the summer of 2011 as part of our Computational Astrobiology Summer School (CASS) program. The purpose is to permit 3D visualization of data from across the astrobiological spectrum. In the spring of 2012, Dylan Kobayashi came on board the project. He reinstalled the miniCAVE in a new, more permanent location, and got the system working properly, with several functional demos. In April, the miniCAVE was a highly popular exhibit at the Institute for Astronomy Open House, and approximately 80 children used the system. It was demonstrated several more times over the year, notably to a group of ~30 visiting Japanese students. In 2012 December, Kin Lik Wang and Curtis Ikehara will join the project, and will be working on developing projects that directly support UHNAI’s science efforts (in addition to ongoing education and public outreach).

Figure 2

[a] Participants in the Computational astrobiology Summer School start to construct the mini-CAVE visualiza-tion equipment. [b] UHNAI & Institute for Astronomy staff test a Mars visualization using the mini-CAVE equipment.

The W.M. Keck Research Laboratory in Astrochemistry is now fully operational as a state-of the-art ice chemistry laboratory and was this year made available as an international use facility. Collaborative proposals catalyzing multidisciplinary research in the fields of astrochemistry, planetary sciences, astrobiology, material sciences, and reaction dynamics are enquired. Guidelines to submit a user proposal may be found at:

Visitor Program

Our team is unique at the university in that we have secured one of the faculty housing apartments (jointly shared with the Institute for Astronomy) that we use to support our strong visitor program. We provide short to longterm visitor accommodations free of charge for collaborative exchange with team members and other NAI teams. In addition to research, the visitors contribute to our astrobiology seminar series. The following visitors made use of the facility during this period:

Brendan Hermalyn – 2011 Nov 10-16 – Hermalyn, a graduate of Brown University and an expert on impact cratering joined us for a week to give our Astrobiology seminar related to the EPOXI mission, and to begin discussions on collaborations with our team.

Douglas LaRowe – 2012 Feb 2-13 – Doug, a postdoctoral fellow in Jan Amend’s lab at USC, and he joined us for two weeks in Hawaii to work with our team on thermodynamic modeling as it related to our teams geochemical and metabolic studies of the deep biosphere. This fostered the collaborations with our colleagues in the USC deep biosphere group.

Markus Merringer and Jim Cleaves – Feb 20-April – Cleaves, an expert in prebiotic chemistry from NAI Carnegie and GA Tech teams, and Merringer, an expert in chemical computations from Germany, joined us for 6 weeks to work with team member Stephen Freeland. The goal was to computationally generate an exhaustive reference set of amino acid chemical structures relevant to astrobiology in order to evaluate their physical properties. The ultimate goal then, is to understand why Earth life chose the particular set of 20 amino acids that it did, and whether this was a unique set, or there are other equally good options available for life elsewhere.

Thom Orlando – Mar 18-Apr 9 – During part of his sabbatical, Orlando, from the GA Tech team, joined our team to work with Jeff Taylor, Ralf Kaiser and Karen Meech to explore astrochemistry issues related to the origin of water on Earth. Several projects related to impact delivery and solar wind implantation of water on the moon, were pursued, and the collaborations that developed from this visit have resulted in the development of a proposal for the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute CAN.

Mario Melita – May 20-26 – Mario joined us from the Institute of Astrophysics, University of Buenos Aires to work with team member Nader Haghighipour on the detection of moons of closein giant planets with transit timing variation.

Elke PilatLohinger – Jul 3-15 – Lohinger joined us from the University of Vienna to work with Nader Haghighipour. She is a celestial mechanician with expertise in planet formation and dynamics, especially planets in binary star systems.

Alan Fitzsimmons – 2012 Aug 24-22 Feb 2013 – Alan joined us as a sabbatical visitor from the Queens University in Belfast, Ireland to work with our team and with the Pan STARRS 1 telescope database on comets and small bodies. His visit included many rich interactions, new collaborations, and he became head of the inner solar system lead team on Pan STARRS. Additionally, a big public event related to “Great Comets” is planned for late January 2013.

In addition to visiting collaborators, we have made shortterm use of the apartment to bring over team members from the big island for seminars, outreach, meetings and other work as well as using the facility to support the arrival of new postdocs and faculty members as they search for housing.

Science Accomplishments

One of our big interdisciplinary projects is looking at the origin of earth’s water, and this project saw a lot of activity this year, including access to new samples, continued discovery and characterization of a new class of objects in the main asteroid belt, the Main Belt Comets (MBCs), to continued development of a Discovery class mission to take an in situ look at material which may have brought water to earth. The team is developing new techniques to push the MBC discovery statistics in the Pan STARRS 1 survey data. Our collaboration is continuing with the University of Colorado to investigate the balance of hydrogen in the Earth’s interior by looking at highpressure mineral phases that are likely hosts for H and thus water in planetary interiors. This is in an effort to ultimately understand how much water needed to have been delivered to the terrestrial planets early in the solar system’s history. Ion probe studies of a class of lunar samples that should contain the most water have shown that these contain much less water than the mare flood basalts, possibly suggesting that the Moon contained little water during its initial differentiation and that water my have arrived postaccretion. Related to the impact delivery of volatiles, an opportunity arose to explore the disposal of the Herschel space telescope in an impact experiment on the moon at the end of its mission in 2013. UHNAI team members led the development of mission strategies for impact into permanently shadowed areas on the moon, similar to the LCROSS experiment.

The ice chemistry group has been using the new Keck Astrochemistry lab on a variety of experiments to investigate the evolution of solar system and interstellar ices as an important component of understanding the origin of complex biomolecules that could have seeded the primordial Earth. Experiments included the simulation of high energy bombardment of icy surfaces (such as satellites embedded in magnetospheric radiation) with heavy ions to look at abundances of radiolytic products in oxygenbearing solids and what controls this; and experiments on the effects of energetic electrons on ice mixtures of carbon dioxide in an attempt to understand the possible origin of perchlorate on Earth and Mars.

Our team has remained extremely active in the area of small body observations (comets, centaurs, Kuiper belt objects) and modeling. We have been very active in characterizing newly discovered Main Belt comets, and in continuing our focus on assessing the chemistry of comets through heliocentric light curve observations and modeling, as well as high resolution near IR spectroscopy in collaboration with the Goddard NAI lead team. Spectral modeling of Kuiper belt objects and Centaurs has been used to explore the effect of space weathering on spectra, in particular masking the signature of water ice. The models are being developed to include input from laboratory measurements of collected cometary particles, taking into account the surface processing by solar and cosmic ions, and taking into account contributions from organics. The goal is to explore the implications of the colors seen in the outer solar system icy surfaces. More direct space weathering experiments are being conducted in the space weathering lab on campus to explore the signatures of aqueous alteration in minerals that comprise the surfaces of asteroids in the outer asteroid belt. This is combined with a comprehensive observing program to search for hydration in the outer belt and to search for cometary activity in the main belt. Team members have been heavily utilizing the Pan STARRS 1 survey data for main belt comet discovery with follow up using the telescopes on Mauna Kea, Chile, Arizona, in India and Spain.

B. Reipurth has continued the development of the VYSOS astronomical survey facility on the Big Island, in order to understand the photometric variability of young sunlike stars and survey all the major starforming regions across the entire northern and southern skies. Our team is now involved in submillimeter observational work investigating planet formation in the early stages of star formation as material falls into protoplanetary disks. Team members have also explored the early stages of star formation in multiple systems through N body simulations showing that we can match the architectures of widely separated binary star systems.

Our team has been using a suite of microanalytical tools to understand the early solar system aqueous environment and production of organic material. Our cosmochemistry group has been looking at the timing of key aqueous alteration solar system processes. Additionally they are looking at how these aqueous processes may have affected the formation of organic molecules in the early solar system environment.

Through our work to model the deposition and survival of Mars and Antarctic ground ice, we are undertaking a new field project in Hawaii looking to investigate the longevity of tropical permafrost on Mauna Kea. Although the summits of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are exceptionally dry, sporadic permafrost exists in cinder cones near the summit. These microclimates serve as analogues for microclimates on Mars, where sporadic ice patches can be found in relatively warm regions. We have begun deploying field sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity at the summit.

In the area of extrasolar planet research, collaborative observations are continuing in the quest to understand the frequency of planets around M stars, constituting the majority of stars. Further, as many of the stars in our galaxy are in binary systems, and many support debris disks, this suggests that planet formation may also be common around binary stars. Team members are collaborating with Kepler scientists to develop techniques for detecting planets in these systems. Our team has participated in the discovery of a potentially habitable super Earth planet orbiting a M class dwarf star in a lowmetallicity triple star system, demonstrating that habitable planet may form in a greater variety of environments than previously believed.

Team members participated in an expedition to North Pond on the young flanks of the Mid Atlantic ridge, deploying two new generation seafloor instrument sleds. Deep crustal fluids are being pumped from several hundreds of meters below the seafloor to special acidcleaned and sterile samplers at the seafloor. Samples will be analyzed for a suite of geochemical and microbiological (e.g., biomass, molecular diversity, metabolic rates) parameters. In addition, the team has had an exciting breakthrough whereby they initiated fluorescent tracers into the oceanic crust as proxies for microbes to assess their mobility in the remote biosphere. The tracers injected in August 2010 are now being recovered, and the analysis is continuing. Our biogeochemical group is leading a community effort to connect several underwater observatory systems in the northeast Pacific.

Excellent progress has been made in identifying factors that determine why 3.5 billion years ago, terrestrial life evolved a precise alphabet of 20 amino acids out of a large space of plausible chemical structures. Using NAI DDF funds, we have formed a new collaboration to combine European (DLR) advances in computational chemistry with NAI expertise in organic chemistry and amino acid biology to address this issue. Our project is addressing how many unique stable chemical structures might be possible, so that they may be investigated for properties that make them more ideal for terrestrial life.

Finally, in order to expose the interdisciplinary roots and applications of astrobiology, we have continued the development of the Astrobiology Integrative Research Framework (AIRFrame). Graduate student Lisa Miller successfully defended her MS thesis during March, analyzed and optimized a machine learning method for finding topicbased clusters in a set of articles listed as publications in the NAI Annual Report. By the metrics of this research, the majority of the team postdocs are engaged in true interdisciplinary research, and that there is a range of interdisciplinarity among the Co-Investigators. While the latter is to be expected given the disciplinespecific training the senior researchers have gone through, it demonstrates that the existence of an interdisciplinary institute and our “Water Hole” concept of postdoctoral and graduate training is helping shape a new generation of scientists who work differently.

Educational and Public Outreach and Graduate Training Activities

The Hawai’i team was very active in the area of Education and Public Outreach. We have a good mix of formal and informal education activities, including university level courses and seminars, student and teacher summer school programs, as well as public activities.

Middle and High School Programs – We offered our student teacher summer residence program, HISTAR (Hawaii Student Teacher Astronomy Research) from May 30-Jun 4, 2012 wherein teachers and twenty middle high school students age 12-17 worked with astronomer mentors to develop skills necessary for conducting original research projects suitable for entry in school science fairs. Students participated in remote observing using the 2m Faulkes Telescope North on Haleakala, MaI and the 16-inch DeKalb Observatory in Indiana. Our ALI’I summer teacher program for professional development for secondary science teachers was hosted at the University of Hawaii from July 6-20, 2012, and involved many of our team members. The goal of the program is to enable master teachers to conduct secondary workshops in astrobiology around the US.

Teacher Workshop in China – As an official function of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly in Beijing China, UHNAI team Bin Yang and EPO lead Mary Ann Kadooka organized this workshop with the cooperation of International Astronomical Union newly formed Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) as an IAU workshop with approval from director Dr. Kevin Govender and IAU vice president George Miley. Beijing Planetarium director Dr. Zhi Jun and his assistant Dr. Donglu Chen recruited the participating teachers, secured sponsors for the refreshments and lunches, and arranged for all necessary logistics for this workshop. About 40 middle school geography Beijing teachers participated in this 2-day workshop held at the Beijing Planetarium. The program consisted of lectures on main belt comets, exoplanets as related to astrobiology plus star formation and related activities. The lectures and activities in English were translated to Mandarin prior to and during the workshop.

Figure 3

[a] IAU Beijing teacher workshop; [b] B. Yang and M. Kadooka assisting teachers with a Mars activity.

Astronomers from China, Taiwan, Japan, Portugal and the United States volunteered their time to share their current research and activity. The teachers enjoyed using actual Mars images to plot the orbit of Mars with paper and pencil. They worked with exoplanet light transits to find the distance between the exoplanets and their stars using Kepler’s law of periods. They learned about calculating the mass of a black hole and the use of SalsaJ software for image processing on laptops, an activity of the European Union Hands On Universe curriculum, sponsored by the European Space Agency.

Programs for the Public – On Nov. 17, 2011, the UHNAI participated in the annual Physics open house. This event brought an audience of 75 K-12 students for a range of lectures and hands on activities. The UHNAI contribution was lead by team member N. Schorghofer who discussed the astrobiological implications of water on Mars.

Figure 4

UHNAI researcher Dr. Norbert Schorghofer presents a talk to a class of visiting high school students, comprising several local schools.

On April 29, 2012 the Institute for Astronomy held its annual Open House event with over 1300 people. The UH NAI team set up several exhibits and stations including a an experiment that shows the deep sea microbial community chemical gradient energy sources, impact cratering demonstrations, comet outbursts and comet making. The exhibits were manned by UHNAI scientists and graduate students, with assistance from undergraduate astrobiology students. Comet making was very popular, as was a demonstration simulating Martian eruptions of sublimated carbon dioxide. Visitors were particularly fascinated with the CAVE demonstration where they experienced 3D virtual reality of a Martian surface using 3D goggles. Astrobiology comics were distributed for all to enjoy. Team members also gave public lectures that were relevant to astrobiology including: “Comet—Space Junk or the Rosetta Stones of the Solar System” (Karen Meech), “The Search for Habitable Planets” (Nader Haghighipour), and “Is/Was there Life on Mars?” (Toby Owen).

Figure 5

From upper Left to lower right: [a] 2012 Openhouse views where a wide variety of the general public from Honolulu and were in attendance. [b] Impact cratering hands-on station; [c-d] the UHNAI team interactive, family-friendly exercise in building a comet where children and their parents learned how icy small bodies, through partial melting, end up covered with a layer of less volatile minerals and organic material; [e] Demonstration of comet outbursts; [f] young Hawaiian participant not so sure about comet snow; [g] UHNAI postdoc demonstrating the biogeochemical electric circuit; [h-i] Waiting area outside the 3D cave envi-ronment to discuss Mars and what will be seen inside; [j] inside the UHNAI CAVE.

The 2012 Transit of Venus Event – The Institute for Astronomy hosted a public event to view the historic transit of Venus on June 5, 2012. The public event in Waikiki drew nearly 15,000 people. UHNAI postdocs participated in the event, and passed out information about astrobiology, while explaining the significance of transits for planet detection.

Public Evening Lecture & Other Public Talks – As a consequence of the press release related to the discovery of potential habitable planets, we hosted a Frontiers of Astronomy public event on March 13 which was very well attended, and generated interviews with 7 local radio stations.

AstroCoffee – Team member G. Sarid has been working with colleagues at the Institute for Astronomy to present “Astrocoffee” each Friday at 10:30am, where brief scientific overviews of recent research are presented to the faculty and staff, including highlights of our team Astrobiology research.

Figure 6

Virtual Field Trip Collaboration – We have continued our collaboration with the ASU team to develop 2 virtual field trip webbased educational tools – one on the origin of Earth’s water, and the other a comparison between hot spot volcanoes in Hawaii, Iceland, Yellowstone and Mars. Filming was done during Sep. 2011 in Iceland before and during the Origins of Water II workshop, along with field work. Additional filming was done in Hawaii during November. Production on the VFTs is underway.

Astrobiology Courses – The UHNAI team continued our Astrobiology seminar each semester, highlighting team research. Additionally, we offered the following courses:

  • Astr281 – Astrobiology (undergraduate) – providing modern astronomical, geological, chemical and biological perspectives on astrobiology.
  • Astr740 – Astrobiology Seminar – current topics in UHNAI research
  • Astr777 – Star and Planet formation – reviewing our current understanding of the formation of the sun, solar like stars and their planets
  • Chem657/Astr657 – Astrochemistry-Molecular approach – the goal of this classis to understand and predict the fundamental chemical and physical processes leading to the formation of molecules leading to complex astrobiologically important species.
  • Micr795 – Evolution of Protein Synthesis – reviewing the emergence of how, when and why genetic coding has evolved on our planet.

The Institute for Astronomy and the University of Hawaii are realizing the potential of interdisciplinary training, and as a part of a restructuring of our undergraduate curriculum, we are moving forward with the planning for a school of “AstroX” which will develop an undergraduate degree program in astronomy and astrophysics, with graduate programs emphasizing Astrobiology, Astrochemistry, Astroengineering, Astromicrobiology, and Astroinformation and computer sciences. The formal process through the University takes a couple years, but we have received permission to move forward with the planning process.

Figure 7

Plan for the new Astro-X curriculum at UH.

UH Nordic Graduate Winter and Summer Schools – At 1.5 year intervals, in collaboration with the Nordic Astrobiology Network, the UH NAI team host winter schools and summer schools in astrobiology for graduate students and early career astrobiologists. The school was held from July 2-15, 2012 in Iceland, based in Reykjavik and in the southern town of Hvolsvollur, close to our sites for field work. The program was supported both by the NAI and Nordforsk, the funding for the Nordic network.

This year we had 178 applicants from 34 countries (15% from Nordic countries, 43% from US/Canada, 43% from Europe, and 10% other). Successful applicants had to be within 5 years of their PhD, and show a need for interdisciplinary training, in addition to being exceptional researchers as demonstrated by their essay, publications and letters of recommendation. We accepted 47 participants into the program from 15 countries (Nordic 13%, US/Canada 54%, Europe 35%, other 2%). We tried to keep a balance in the research disciplines (astronomy 27%, chemistry 13%, geology 16%, biology 12%).

Figure 8

Summer school recruiting poster.

Participants were recruited via a poster developed at IfA and distributed widely by mail and at meetings, by newsletter, and email advertisement. Applications were submitted via an online database by January 31, 2012.

As a result of previous summer and winter school evaluations we knew that the participant-participant interaction was as important as the instruction, so we built much more of this into the program. The first 3 days in Reykjavik began with short lecture blocks followed by dedicated discussion (orange schedule blocks), and this pattern of allowing for a fixed period of discussion with each talk was followed throughout the program. On Day 6 we transferred to Hvolsvollur to be based more conveniently to our field sites: the Landmannalaugar hot springs, and rhyolite mountain, the site of the Fimmvorduhals 2010 eruption, and the Solheimajokull glacier. The field portion (green and lavender blocks) of the school involved assessing how quickly new land gets colonized, and training in the tools for detection of low levels of life in extreme environments.

Figure 9

Postevent participant evaluation showed that the logistics and program content were exceptional, and offered some constructive comments on improvements for future programs. Comments:

“I have a few really exciting ideas for new research avenues” [geologist]

“This workshop has been the single largest source in my graduate career so far of contact with early career researchers” [geologist]

“This workshop has exceeded my expectations. It has been a fantastic course, great speakers, lectures and fieldtrips.” [biogeochemistry]

“I truly believe I will keep in contact with some of the people I’ve met over the course of the summer school and we will remain good friends. Something that was quite unexpected.” [microbio/extremophiles]

Plans are now underway for the next program – to be held in Hawaii during January 2014.

Figure 10

[a] Students at poster session in Reykjavik; [b] Exploration of a lava tube on the Reykjanes peninsula; [c] microbial hot springs communities at Landmannalaugar.

Figure 11

[a] Students ascending to the Landmannalaugar lava fields; [b] 4 hour ascent to the Fimmvorduhals 2010 eruption site on Eyjafjallajokull; [c] sampling on the Solheimajokull glacier.

Other Activities
The work done by graduate student Mike Gowanlock on the Galactic Habitable zone received quite a bit of attention in a number of EPO online venues.

International Collaboration

Our participation with the Nordic Network of Astrobiologists has strengthened. The goal of the Nordic network is to promote research in astrobiology in Nordic countries, and foster collaboration in research, education and E/PO within the network, and to the international community. UHNAI and other NAI astrobiologists have been participating in meetings and student workshops organized by the Nordic network. Our team will be participating in the summer course on “Impacts and their Role in the Evolution of Life” in Kuressaare, Estonia during August 2013.

We have also been developing a strong collaboration with scientists at the DLR in Berlin, related to comets and volatiles in the early solar system, and this may lead to collaboration on mission development.

Meetings and Workshops

Our team sponsored and hosted a large number of astrobiology related workshops and meetings during this period, including

  • Origins of Water II – Sep. 4-11, 2011 – Breiddalsvik, Iceland. This workshop will hosted two dozen top scientists from around the world in an interdisciplinary working meeting to discuss issues in the context of the origin of Earth’s water – to assess where we understand things, and where we will benefit from interdisciplinary approaches. The meeting was coupled with geological sampling related to the research on this topic, and the filming for a Virtual Field trip educational resource.
  • First Solids in the Solar System – Nov. 7-9, 2011 – Kauai Hawaii. This workshop was organized and partly sponsored by the UHNAI team in honor of the distinguished meteoritics career of retiring team member Klaus Keil. This interdisciplinary meeting (cosmochemistry, astrophysics, and astronomy) was aimed at understanding the origin and chronology of the first solids in the solar system (calciumaluminumrich inclusions, amoeboid olivine aggregates, chondrules, and differentiated asteroids). The meeting will be focused on four major but related issues that are crucial in deciphering the meteorite record of the early solar system.
  • Star and Planet Formation Day – Dec. 7, 2011 – This was sponsored by the UHNAI tea at the Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu bringing together researchers from NAI and the local community to discuss star and planet formation.
  • The Pan STARRS Telescope Meeting – The PS1 Science consortium meeting was held in Hawaii from Jan. 3-6, 2012 where ~50 scientists came to discuss the survey and science. Our team members made presentations on new detection techniques for Main Belt Comets (including the latest discovery of activity on VW2006139), and insights into NEOs showing that if the current discovery rate of large NEOs continues, that this suggests that perhaps the population models and consequently impact hazard assessment needs to be revised.
  • American Astronomical Society Meeting – January 2012 – team member N. Haghighipour organized an astrobiology related session at the AAS meeting to present the highlights of research in the area of dynamical astronomy (from planets to galaxies).
  • Deep Biosphere post Expedition 327 workshop – March 12-13, Univ. Hawaii. Team member Jim Cowen hosted this workshop in order to present emerging scientific results from the expedition.
  • International Astronomical Union General Assembly (IAU GA) – Aug. 2031. Astrobiology was featured in several activities at the GA, including invited talks in the Joint Discussion 5 on Meteorites, Meteors and Interplanetary Dust Particles. A five day Astrobiology symposium was organized at the GA by N. Haghighipour on the “Formation, Detection and Characterization of Extrasolar Habitable Planets”. The full program and the range of topics can be found on the conference website at A total of 188 abstracts were received from 400 registered attendees. The symposium was a very high profile event that generated a lot of interest from the Press. With astrobiology in the news because of the Mars Science Lander, the IAU Executive Committee requested a special “hot topics” lecture on the early mission results.

Upcoming events include a planning workshop to develop the end of mission Herschel impact experiment at Oxford, UK in November.

Flight Mission Involvement
In collaboration with the Jet Propulsion laboratory, Ball Aerospace and the MaxPlanck Institute for Solar System Research, UHNAI team members lead by K. Meech and drawing upon an interdisciplinary team from the departments of Astronomy, Oceanography, and from the Hawaiian Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, are continuing to develop a NASA Discovery mission concept to rendezvous with a main belt comet using an ion propulsion system a state of the art mass spectrometer and an imager and dust analyzer. The mission goals are to (1) provide new knowledge of the history of water in our solar system, (2) contribute to the understanding of the protoplanetary disk structure and dynamics and the location of the snow line, (3) and explore a new class of objects in the main belt.