The 15th Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon) was held from July 22-26, 2019 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, with 75 participants presenting 31 talks and 44 posters.
The attendees were graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and select undergraduate students from 47 institutions in 7 different countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Israel, Japan, and the United States). In addition to the scientific program, the attendees gathered for informal networking and social activities each night and an educational field trip to the Timpanogos Cave National Monument on the last day of the conference, which included a lecture on the geology of the cave and cave tours. In addition, the attendees took part in both a science communication panel discussion and mini-workshop, prior to a community engagement event that attracted around 50 members of the public.
The opening reception included talks from Dr. William Brazelton, a professor of biology at the University of Utah, and Julia DeMarines, a science educator and research associate at SETI Berkeley. The keynote speaker at the closing reception was Dr. Kevin Hand, director of the Ocean Worlds Lab at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. All three are previous AbGradCon attendees.
AbGradCon was preceded by the Proposal Writing Retreat (PWR) during which 24 participants took part in an intensive three-day collaborative science proposal writing experience in the mountains above Salt Lake City. Participants worked in teams of three to respond to either a ROSES or ROSBio solicitation in full, including both the scientific proposal and all auxiliary documents (e.g. budgets, relevance statements, and data management plans). The 8 submitted proposals were then peer reviewed and discussed in a mock panel evaluation. This year’s winning proposal was written by Iskinder Arsano (University of Akron), Petar Penev (Georgia Institute of Technology), and Michael Wang (Princeton) and was entitled “Peptide and Nucleic Acid Synergy: Biopolymer Complexity beyond the RNA World.”
The conference was made possible with generous support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), the Heising-Simons Foundation, Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI), Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, and ACS Earth and Space Chemistry. This financial support makes this unique event possible, providing an excellent opportunity for early career astrobiologists to learn from each other, create new collaborations, increase their breadth of knowledge in an inherently multidisciplinary field, and improve their writing and presentation skills. The 16th Astrobiology Graduate Conference will be held September 14-18, 2020, at ELSI in Tokyo, Japan.
To view recordings from AbGradCon 2019, visit: