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Interdisciplinary Research - NASA Astrobiology

VIEWS: 106 PAGES: 24

									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

                                                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
 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,

 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-
 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

      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,
 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
   * 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
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
                                                                                           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

   * 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

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

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

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


"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

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
*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

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