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Interdisciplinary Research David Des Marais October 16, 2008 11-6-02 DJD - 1 Interdisciplinary Research Discussion Building interdisciplinary teams Success stories Challenges for interdisciplinary science teams, and … How to address those challenges Responsiveness to NRC’s recommendations for interdisciplinarity 11-6-02 DJD - 2 Interdisciplinary Research: Key Elements The research goal and its related objectives are well-defined and focused (e.g., investigation addresses a particular Astrobiology Roadmap objective) Participation by multiple disciplines is required to achieved progress toward goal (e.g., organic or inorganic chemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, geology, geochemistry, physics, planetary science, astronomy) Multiple disciplinary lines of research are inter- dependent, thus must coordinate efforts to achieve objectives (―interaction parameters‖ - weekly to yearly timescales, small groups vs institutions) 11-6-02 DJD - 3 Top NAI Research Accomplishments Early Habitability of Earth - Hadean Eon UColo, UCLA; 2+ disc.; monthly The Rise of Oxygen and Earth’s Middle Age Harv, PSU, CIW, UWash, MIT; 4+ disc., weekly Snowball Earth Harv, 3+ disc., weekly Microbial Mat Ecology ARC, UColo, ASU, MBL, UWisc; 4+ disc., monthly Discovery of the ―Rare Biosphere‖ MBL, UCB; 2+ disc.; yearly 11-6-02 DJD - 4 Top NAI Research Accomplishments Sub-Seafloor Life URI, MBL, PSU; 3+ disc.; weekly-monthly Metal Isotope Tracers of Environment and Biology UWisc, Harv; 2+ disc.; yearly Life without the Sun IPTAI; 3+ disc.; weekly Early Wet Mars ARC, ASU, Harv, GSFC, UColo; 5+ disc.; monthly Methane on Mars GSFC,UCB,UCLA + others; 4+ disc.; monthly-yearly 11-6-02 DJD - 5 Top NAI Research Accomplishments Comets in Space and in the Laboratory GSFC, ARC, UHawaii, UWash; 2+ disc.; monthly? Exoplanet Discovery and Analysis CIW, UCB, VPL; I disc.?; monthly? Modeling Exoplanet Biospheres VPL + 6 NAI teams, 19 disc.; weekly 11-6-02 DJD - 6 Assessment of the NAI by the NRC, 2008, pp. 23-24. … Since some of the NAI’s scientific contributions … are more interdisciplinary than others, should the NAI only take credit for research that is truly interdisciplinary? The answer must be no. Research that is predominantly the domain of a single discipline (e.g., the search for and characterization of exoplanets) is a necessary precursor to more interdisciplinary activities (e.g., modeling exoplanet biospheres). Thus, interdisciplinarity must be viewed as the orientation and emergent quality of an overall enterprise and not as a requirement or expectation levied on every piece of work produced by that enterprise. ……… 11-6-02 DJD - 7 Assessment of the NAI by the NRC, 2008, pp. 23-24. … Too great an emphasis on what is and is not interdisciplinary science could potentially lead to an overly bureaucratic emphasis on proxy measures of intellectual achievements such as counts of the relative number of papers with multiple authors from different disciplines. Progress in achieving interdisciplinary science goals can be made by independent experts working singly or in concert with colleagues from other disciplines. Since it is the result that counts, and not the methodology chosen to achieve it, the committee determined that the NAI has been successful in conducting, supporting, and catalyzing collaborative interdisciplinary research. 11-6-02 DJD - 8 Enhancing NAI Interdisciplinary Research Identifying and prioritizing NAI goals/objectives wrt Astrobiology Roadmap and NASA missions Focus Groups Director’s Discretionary Fund Balancing overall NAI effort wrt scope (e.g., intra- NAI team, NAI team-team, NAI-external, NAI- international) Identifying and leveraging external resources 11-6-02 DJD - 9 NAI Origins of Life Focus Group (A. Pohorille) Foster new research directions, strengthen connections to cutting edge research and missions, training next generation, augmenting resources Over 70 researchers; 8 member institutions Website: member profiles, research & educational resources, forum (bulletin board) Hypothesis-based organization of scientific information University Carnegie Institution University of Montana State Of Arizona Of Washington Colorado, Boulder University NASA Ames NASA Goddard SETI VPL@University Research Center Research Center Institute of Washington 11-6-02 DJD - 10 End 11-6-02 DJD - 11 Interdisciplinary Research: Key Elements The research goal and its related objectives are well- defined and focused (e.g., investigation addresses a particular Astrobiology Roadmap objective) Participation by multiple disciplines is required to achieved progress toward goal (e.g., organic or inorganic chemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, geology, geochemistry, physics, planetary science, astronomy) Multiple disciplinary lines of research are inter- dependent, thus must coordinate efforts to achieve objectives (―interaction parameters‖ - weekly to yearly timescales, small groups vs institutions) 11-6-02 DJD - 12 Arizona State University Follow the Elements Principal Investigator: Ariel Anbar Arizona State University As new criteria are required to prioritize the large and growing list of water-rich environments beyond Earth, the ASU Team looks ahead to the next phase of astrobiological exploration. Because all organisms are comprised of a non-random selection of chemical elements, we must learn, in addition to ―following the water‖ and ―following the energy,‖ to ―follow the elements.‖ The team will focus on two types of elements: bioessential elements such as C, N, S, P and Fe that constitute the raw materials for life as we know it, and short-lived radionuclides such as 26Al and 60Fe, isotopes that may play a key role in determining the water inventories of planets. The ASU team will conduct three complementary, interdisciplinary research efforts to develop new, more refined criteria to guide the search for life. The Stoichiometry of Life * Understanding the relationships between the elemental compositions of organisms and their environments, and the ways in which those relationships shape the habitability of planets. The Habitability of Water-Rich Environments * Understanding the impact of water on the availability of bioessential elements on planets and satellites, using geochemical models of water-rock interactions and geophysical models of the dynamics of mass and heat transfer in icy mantles. * Applying these models to determine the chemical composition of Europa’s subsurface ocean, ancient aqueous solutions on Mars, oceans on icy satellites, and oceans on waterworlds. Astrophysical Controls on the Elements of Life * Investigating how astrophysical processes shape the abundances of bio-essential elements and radionuclides that affect planetary habitability. * Seeking to identify an observable proxy for 26Al that would enable quantitative predictions about whether a given star is more likely to host waterworlds or Earth-like planets. 11-6-02 DJD - 13 Carnegie Institution of Washington Astrobiological Pathways: From the Interstellar Medium, Through Planetary Systems, to the Emergence and Detection of Life Principal Investigator: George Cody Carnegie Institution of Washington The NAI CIW Team will focus on life’s chemical and physical evolution, from the interstellar medium, through planetary systems, to the emergence and detection of life. Their research spans six integrated areas: * Applying theory and observations to investigate the nature and distribution of extrasolar planets both through radial velocity and astrometric methods, the composition of circumstellar disks, early mixing and transport in young disks, and late mixing and planetary migration in the Solar System, and Solar System bodies. * Studying volatile and organic rich Solar System Bodies by focusing on astronomical surveying of outer solar system objects and performing in-house analyses of meteorite, interplanetary dust particle, and Comet Wild 2/81P samples. * Studying the origin and evolution of the terrestrial planets with a special emphasis on CHON volatiles, their delivery, and retention in the deep interiors of terrestrial planets. * Investigating the geochemical steps that may have lead to the origin of life, focusing on identifying and characterizing mineral catalyzed organic reaction networks that lead from simple volatiles, e.g., CO2 , NH3, and H2, up to greater molecular complexity. * Exploring how sub-seafloor interactions support deep ocean hydrothermal ecosystems; studying life’s adaptation to extremes of pressure, cold, and salinity; and adapting and applying multiple isotopic sulfur geochemistry towards the understanding of microbial metabolism and as a means of detecting ancient metabolisms recorded in the rock record * Coordinating advanced instrument testing for the Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition (AMASE) in support of Mars Science Laboratory, including ChemMin, SAM, and elements of the ExoMars payload including Raman and Life Marker Chip Instruments. 11-6-02 DJD - 14 Pennsylvania State University Signatures of Life from Earth and Beyond Principal Investigator: Christopher House Pennsylvania State University A major research focus of astrobiology is enabling the recognition of signatures of life on the early Earth, in extreme environments, and in extraterrestrial settings. The NAI PSU Team will develop novel approaches to detecting and characterizing life, investigate biosignatures in mission-relevant ecosystems and ancient rocks, and evaluate the potential for biosignatures in extraterrestrial settings: Developing New Biosignatures * The development and testing of potential indicators of life is essential for providing a critical scientific basis for the exploration of life in the cosmos. Efforts will focus on creating innovative approaches for the analyses of cells and other organic material, finding ways in which metal abundances and isotope systems reflect life, and developing creative approaches for using environmental DNA to study present and past life. Biosignatures in Relevant Microbial Ecosystems * The team will investigate microbial life in some of Earth’s most mission-relevant ecosystems: the Dead Sea, the Chesapeake impact structure, the methane seeps of the Eel River Basin, and Greenland glacier ice. Biosignatures in Ancient Rocks * The Earth’s Archean and Proterozoic eons offer the best opportunity for investigating a microbial world, such as might be found elsewhere in the cosmos. The ancient record on Earth provides an opportunity to see what geochemical signatures are produced by microbial life and how these signatures are preserved over geologic time. Biosignatures in Extraterrestrial Settings * The team will investigate the abundance of sulfur gases and elucidate how these gases can be expected to evolve with time on young terrestrial planets. They will continue studies of planet formation in the presence of migration and model radial transport of volatiles in young planetary systems, and will be involved with searches for M star planetary companions and planets around K-giant stars. 11-6-02 DJD - 15 NASA Ames Research Center Early Habitable Environments and the Evolution of Complexity Principal Investigator: David Des Marais NASA Ames Research Center The overarching goal of the NAI ARC Team’s scientific program is to understand the creation and distribution of early habitable environments in emerging planetary systems. A key emphasis of this work is to elucidate, in a conceptual sense, the interactions between contributory processes that operate over vastly differing spatial and temporal scales. This intellectual framework provides a means of integrating the Ames team’s investigations and also the diverse array of applicable research on habitability within the astrobiology community as a whole. The work is organized into six research objectives: * Tracing spectroscopically the cosmic evolution of organic molecules from the interstellar medium to protoplanetary disks, planetesimals and finally onto habitable bodies. * Predicting the diversity of planetary systems emerging from protoplanetary disks, with a focus on the formation of planets that provide chemical raw materials, energy, and environments necessary to sustain prebiotic chemical evolution and complexity. * Modeling particular planetary systems that can support viable atmospheres, including a focus on chemical consequences of radiation and impacts in early atmospheres. * Developing and evaluating a more quantitative methodology for assessing the habitability of early planetary environments, particularly Mars – via capabilities that will be, or might be, deployed in situ. * Identifying critical requirements for the emergence of biological complexity in early habitable environments by examining key steps in the origins and early evolution of catalytic functionality and metabolic reaction networks. * Investigating radiation induced effects on biomolecular complexity as a constraint as well as an opportunity for evolution. 11-6-02 DJD - 16 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Origin and Evolution of Organics in Planetary Systems Principal Investigator: Michael Mumma NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Exogenous organic material and water were delivered to Earth in great amounts during the late heavy bombardment, and small amounts arrive even today. Intact examples abound in meteorite collections and their analysis provides a key window on source regions within 5 AU of the young sun. Major mass flux also arrived from beyond 5 AU, and this source can be evaluated by measuring the organic composition of comets. The central research question of the NAI GSFC Team is: Did delivery of exogenous organics and water enable the emergence and evolution of life? The research of the team is organized into four main areas: * Establish the taxonomy of icy planetesimals and their potential for delivering pre-biotic organics and water to the young Earth and other planets * Investigate processes affecting the origin and evolution of organics in planetary systems * Analyze the formation, distribution, abundance, and isotopic composition of complex organics in authentic extraterrestrial samples and advanced laboratory simulations * Develop analytical protocols and techniques for in situ analysis of complex organics on planetary missions 11-6-02 DJD - 17 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Setting the Stage for Life: From Interstellar Clouds to Early Earth and Mars Principal Investigator: Douglas Whittet Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute The NAI RPI Team’s research will address the universality and efficacy of key pathways that lead from atoms and molecules in the interstellar medium to planets and life. The team will investigate the evolution of biogenic compounds from the first chemical reactions in interstellar space to exogenous delivery of prebiotic molecules to planetary surfaces. Geochemical and isotopic analyses of samples, including lunar impact melts and terrestrial Hadean-Archean zircons, will be used to determine (respectively) the time line for impact frustration of life and the nature of the primitive atmosphere and oceans on early Earth. The NAI RPI team will investigate the applicability to Mars of geochemical methods used to place time constraints on processes and events on early Earth, and explore the potential role of mineral catalysis in production of RNA and other prebiotic molecules on both planets. The research is organized into seven main areas: * Interstellar origins of preplanetary matter * Thermal processing of early Solar System materials * Pathways for exogenous organic matter to early Earth and Mars * Impact history in the Earth-Moon System * Vistas of early Mars: In preparation for sample return * The environment of the early Earth * Prebiotic chemical catalysis on early Earth and Mars 11-6-02 DJD - 18 Georgia Institute of Technology The Georgia Tech Center for Ribosome Adaptation and Evolution Principal Investigator: Loren Williams Georgia Institute of Technology The NAI GIT Team has constructed a multidisciplinary Center to focus on a single theme: the transition from nucleic acid-based life to protein-based life. This transition is centered on the macromolecular machine responsible for the synthesis of proteins, called the ribosome. The collective scientific goal of the Center is to rewind the ―tape of life‖ to before the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of all living organisms, and attempt to shed light on the nature of protein synthesis by living systems prior to the LUCA. The Center’s research is organized into four main areas: * Characterizing macromolecules and assemblies of living systems both in extreme environments and from the distant past. * Focusing on the machinery of peptide synthesis to determine and recreate key steps in the transition from the RNA world to the protein world. * Uncovering clues as to the nature of the peptide synthesis machinery that was operational during life’s transition from non-coded to coded peptides. * Potentially discovering and characterizing the oldest traceable macromolecules and machines of life, and the earliest discernable connection of the RNA world to the RNA-protein world. 11-6-02 DJD - 19 Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Icy Worlds) Astrobiology of Icy Worlds: Habitability, Survivability, and Detectability Principal Investigator: Isik Kanik Jet Propulsion Laboratory Icy worlds such as Titan, Europa, Enceladus, and others may harbor the greatest volume of habitable space in the Solar System. For at least five of these worlds, considerable evidence exists to support the conclusion that oceans or seas may lie beneath the icy surfaces. The total liquid water reservoir within these worlds may be some 30 to 40 times the volume of liquid water on Earth. This vast quantity of liquid water raises two questions: Can life emerge and thrive in such cold, lightless oceans beneath many kilometers of ice? And if so, do the icy shells hold clues to life in the subsurface? The NAI JPL-Icy Worlds Team will address these questions through three science investigations and one technology investigation, by: * Researching the habitability of liquid water environments in icy worlds, with a focus on what processes may give rise to life, what processes may sustain life, and what processes may deliver that life to the surface * Researching the survivability of biological compounds under simulated icy world surface conditions, and comparing the degradation products to abiotically synthesized compounds resulting from the radiation chemistry on icy worlds * Researching the detectability of life and biological materials on the surface of icy worlds, with a focus on spectroscopic techniques, and on spectral bands that are not in some way connected to photosynthesis * Developing a Path to Flight for astrobiology instrumentation that has not yet reached a technology readiness level adequate for flight, focusing on instruments and techniques that can detect biosignatures in space 11-6-02 DJD - 20 Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Titan) Titan as a Prebiotic Chemical System Principal Investigator: Mark Allen Jet Propulsion Laboratory The NAI JPL-Titan Team will conduct an interdisciplinary investigation of prebiotic chemistry on Titan in the context of Titan’s physical environment to provide a basis for understanding the prebiotic chemistry of the early Earth. Although Titan is far from the Sun and hence cold, solar radiation interacts with the methane rich atmosphere to initiate the formation of complex organic molecules and aerosols that eventually deposit on Titan’s geologically active surface, where further chemical evolution leading to the origin of life could occur. The team’s work is organized into three themes: Titan’s geology—places where organic chemistry can operate * Geological places where atmospheric organics can react with water * Extent of mixing between hydrocarbons and ice The complexity of atmospheric organic chemistry * Gas phase chemical composition * Aerosol formation, composition, and transport * In situ atmospheric chemical analysis approaches The evolved chemical state of the Titan surface * Reaction of organic compounds with water, ammonia, and mineral catalysts * Solubilities and material properties in liquid methane/ethane * Cosmic radiation chemistry in surface materials * Surface sampling approaches and analytic protocols 11-6-02 DJD - 21 NAI Executive Council meeting October 16-17, 2008 NAI Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future Agenda THURSDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 16 Breakfast Welcome and Introductions Opening Remarks (Carl Pilcher) Cross-team science integration Discussion leader: Carl Pilcher Identifying areas of common interest across the Institute; ways that this has been done in the past; ideas for fostering and supporting cross-team interactions Interdisciplinarity Discussion leader: Dave Des Marais Building interdisciplinary teams; success stories; challenges for interdisciplinary science teams and how to address them; responsiveness to the NRC's recommendations for interdisciplinarity LUNCH (PI's in camera session) 11-6-02 DJD - 22 THURSDAY AFTERNOON, OCTOBER 16 Strategic Challenges for the NAI Discussion leader: Clark Johnson • Potential impact of the '08 Presidential election—how to position/plan for upcoming changes in federal administration and agency priorities after the election. • The NAI Emeritus Program; ways to continue involvement in NAI; use of the DDF and other funding mechanisms to support the Emeritus program; lessons learned from past turnover of teams. • NAI's continued influence on NASA missions; impact on NAI's involvement in missions due to the new mix of teams BREAK "NAI 2.0" —Use of technology for collaboration and communication Discussion Leaders: Vikki Meadows and Wendy Dolci Lessons learned; evolving the virtual institute/IT aspects of NAI; emerging technologies to benefit NAI and that are responsive to the NRC's recommendations for use of IT Malcolm Walter, Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA) 11-6-02 DJD - 23 FRIDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 17 Álvaro Giménez Cañete, Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB) Science presentations: Goddard team Speakers: Danny Glavin, Jason Dworkin Encouraging the next generation of astrobiologists Discussion leader: Chris House What attracts students and young researchers to astrobiology; what are their needs; what lessons have been learned from the NAI Post doc program; from the experience of team-supported post docs and other student programs; ideas for the future Planning for the upcoming year *January 2009 In Person meeting at Ames Research Center: content/purpose; participants; dates. *Schedule of NAI EC videocons and in-person meetings for 2009 *Goals and plans for additional collaboration events throughout the year (virtual events and in- person events). Identify what must be achieved given the strategic directions that have been discussed. *Examples: we will need opportunities to learn about science across teams, will need to work together to respond to new NASA priorities in ~mid-2009. NOON - Adjourn 11-6-02 DJD - 24
"Interdisciplinary Research - NASA Astrobiology"