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NASA HQ | HQ Liason

Deputy Program Scientist, NASA Astrobiology ProgramHQ Representative




Exobiology Branch

Alfonso Davila is a research scientist in the Exobiology branch at NASA Ames Research Center. His research focus is on developing strategies to search for evidence of life beyond Earth. He conducts theoretical and experimental research on the nature and distribution of life in planetary analog environments, where he also investigates the factors that affect biological potential and biosignature preservation. He is an Astrobiology representative in the MEPAG Goals Committee and was a panelist in the 2023-2032 Planetary Sciences and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.




Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB)

Heather Graham is an organic geochemist with widely varied research experience ranging from paleoecology to phytochemistry to astrobiology. They have a B.A. in Chemistry from Occidental College and a dual-title Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University in Geosciences and Biogeochemistry. In addition to their research on deuterium enrichment patterns in extraterrestrial materials and the origin of hydrocarbons in space, they also provide support to the Mars Curiosity Rover science team developing analog materials for instrument testing, and also studies deuterium enrichment patterns in extraterrestrial materials to learn more about the origin of hydrocarbons in space.​

Heather is profoundly curious about the natural world, the history of life, the vast connections between biotic and abiotic systems, and what evolution can tell use about our future. Before planetary science they studied the evolution of land plants and their adaptations to light. Heather is an active science communicator with collaborations in art, theater, and digital media. They like to think of science as a cultural product, a reflection of our collective values and dreams, a conversation between society and the the knowledge we have learned of the Universe. Their favorite organism is lichen.




Using Proteome Dynamics of Psychrophilic Bacteria to Decipher Metabolic Strategies and Protein Signatures Indicative of Sustained Life in Ice

Brook L. Nunn is a research assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Genome Sciences. She holds B.A.s in chemistry and geology from Colorado College, a M.Sc in Chemical Oceanography from the University of Washington, and a PhD in Oceanography from the University of Washington. Prior to joining the Department of Genome Sciences faculty, she was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of Otago, New Zealand with Drs. Philip Boyd and Russell Frew. She then completed a second postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington Medical School Mass Spectrometry Center with Dr. David Goodlett. Brook’s research uses state-of-the-art tandem mass spectrometry technology in order to analyze and quantify protein expression from a variety of environmental samples (from soils to corals to glacial ice melt). Her expertise lies with developing much needed bench-top methods for efficiently and quantitatively extracting proteins from these different, complex environmental matrices, in addition to developing bioinformatic tools to decipher mixed microbial system biosignatures. These new methods allow her team to meet their primary objectives: analyze in situ proteomic signatures to understand unique metabolisms and the dynamic functions of complex microbial systems through time and space. Some of her most recent research explores protein signatures and protein turnover from microbes living in sub-zero temperatures in order to provide fundamental new information relevant to NASA Astrobiology and the Network For Life Detection. 
Dr. Nunn is working with 4 labs at the University of Washington to explore metabolic strategies of psychrophilic bacteria in salty situations. These UW collaborators are: Dr. Karen Junge (expertise in cryospheric microbes); Dr. Bonnie Light (expertise in physics and chemistry of present day and Snowball Earth brines); and Dr. Jonathan Toner (expertise in Mars relevant brine and theoretical modeling of brine chemistry during freezing/evaporation).



DUKE UNIVERSITY | Steering Committee

A high-resolution, large mass range cycloidal sector coded aperture miniature mass spectrometer for planetary exploration

Jason is an associate research professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University. Jason received his PhD in physics from Boston University and did postdoctoral work at Tufts University and Seoul National University.  At Duke, Jason focuses on the application of computational and compressive techniques to improve spectroscopic instrument design. Conventional spectroscopic instruments are designed such that the instrument response is a delta function and the measurements are essentially the desired spectrum. However, this design approach can limit the spectrometer performance. Jason and his team use a different approach by designing the system response to maximize parameters of interest such as throughput and resolution, and then computationally deconvolve the system response from the measurements to achieve a spectrum – thus improving instrument performance.




Miniaturized laser desorption mass spectrometry (LDMS) instruments with Orbitrap analyzers for the in situ characterization of biosignatures

As a hybrid between a classically trained geochemist and a mission-oriented planetary scientist, my research ambitions are multifaceted. I continue to be interested in refining our understanding of the architecture of the Earth’s mantle, both today and in the geological past, but I also attempt to constrain other planetary processes through the exploitation of well-defined geochemical systems/proxies.

More specifically, my laboratory research relies on the development of innovative analytical protocols and the advancement of pioneering technologies/instrumentation to: 1) characterize the organic content in planetary materials (natural, synthetic, and analog samples); 2) quantify ultratrace element abundances (down to sub-ppb levels); and, 3) measure non-traditional stable isotopes, via highly precise and accurate laser ablation mass spectrometry. I have become deeply invested in the development of miniaturized pulsed laser systems as well as a variety of game-changing mass analyzers that promise to revolutionize our understanding of our planetary neighborhood.

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In-Situ Vent Analysis Divebot for Exobiology Research / Phosphorous Redox Chemistry on Rocky and Icy Planets

Dr. Laurie Barge is a Research Scientist in Astrobiology at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She co-leads the JPL Origins and Habitability Laboratory, which studies how life can emerge and be detected in planetary environments. She is also the Investigation Scientist for the HiRISE instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) mission. Laurie and her team seek to understand how complex organic chemistry and life can emerge on planets, particularly in water/rock systems such as hydrothermal vents. Currently, she leads various projects, including studies of organic chemistry on ocean worlds, life detection and origin of life at hydrothermal vents, and understanding CHNOPS elemental cycling to identify habitable environments on other worlds. Laurie received her B.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from Villanova University and her Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from the University of Southern California.




Preservation and detection of extremophiles in Mars-analog halite and gypsum

Kathleen Benison is a professor of geology at West Virginia University. She earned a B.S. in Geology and Chemistry from Bridgewater State College in 1990, a M.A. in Geology at Binghamton University in 1992, and a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Kansas in 1997. Kathy studies the sedimentology, geochemistry, climatology, and biology of modern and ancient acid saline lakes and adjacent eolian deposits and paleosols. The preservation of microorganisms and organic compounds in fluid inclusions in halite and gypsum are two areas of special interest. Her active research field areas include lakes in Australia and Chile, and Permo-Triassic lake deposits in the U.S. and Northern Ireland. She is also interested in chemical sediments on Mars. Kathy has been an associate editor for the Journal of Sedimentary Research, a member of a National Research Council for Mars Sample Return, a grant review panelist for NASA and NSF, and a facilitator for pedagogical and scientific workshops.



MIT | Steering Committee

The Thermal Maturity of Neoproterozoic Strata: Carbonate Clumped Isotope Thermometry and Biomarker Analyses

Kristin Bergmann is an assistant professor in the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Department at MIT. Kristin's multi-disciplinary research – sedimentology and stratigraphy, stable isotope geochemistry of carbonates including clumped-isotope thermometry, and geobiology – focuses on reconstructing the record of environmental change and climate from observations of sedimentary rocks spanning Precambrian to end-Ordovician time. Her approach balances field work and lab work and field sites include Oman, Svalbard and locations across North America. Her current research areas include: 1) combining new approaches to assess the thermal maturity and preservation of organic and geochemical signals in Neoproterozoic rocks, 2) assessing the fallibility of d13C and d18O records in carbonate rocks from the Neoproterozoic to Ordovician and 3) quantifying patterns of carbonate sedimentation through time.




Ultra-Violet Detector Innovation for Raman Exploration and CharacTerization (UV-DIRECT) of Ocean Worlds

Dr. Dina M. Bower is a research scientist in the Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park and the Planetary Systems Laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where she focuses on detecting biosignatures in planetary analogs. She holds a BA in Geology and BS in Oceanography from Richard Stockton College, NJ, and a PhD in Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Science from Old Dominion University, VA. As an NPP, she did her postdoctoral research exploring fossilized biosignatures and biominerals at the Carnegie Institution of Science, Washington, DC, where she specialized in Raman spectroscopy. She is an active member of the Goddard Instrument Field Team (GIFT), and her current research combines field work to test portable spectroscopic instruments with laboratory experiments and observations. She continues to explore the spectroscopic characterization of mineral and organic biosignatures on Earth to establish protocols in support of life detection missions and uses her experience with applied field and lab research to develop vibrational spectroscopy technologies. She is the PI on the UV-DIRECT project funded under the PICASSO program to develop UV-Raman detector technology for life detection on ocean worlds.




European Molecular Indicators of Life Investigation (EMILI)

Dr. Brinckerhoff is a senior scientist in the Solar System Exploration Division at Goddard. He received a B.A. in Physics from Johns Hopkins and a Ph.D. in Physics from Ohio State. He found his way into planetary science and instrument development as a postdoctoral fellow and later a Staff Scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, before joining the Planetary Environments Lab (PEL) at NASA Goddard. He served as PEL lab chief from 2015-2019.

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Microbial Functional and Evolutionary Adaptations to Aridity

 Electronic Life-detection Instrument for Enceladus/Europa (ELIE)

Christopher E. Carr is an engineer/scientist with training in aero/astro, electrical engineering, medical physics, and molecular biology. He recently joined Georgia Tech as an Assistant Professor in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering and a secondary appointment in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He is a member of the Space Systems Design Lab (SSDL) and runs the Planetary Exploration Lab (PXL).

He serves as the Principal Investigator (PI) or Science PI for several life detection instrument and/or astrobiology/space biology projects, and is broadly interested in searching for and expanding the presence of life beyond Earth while enabling a sustainable human future.

He previously served as a Research Scientist at MIT in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and a Research Fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the Department of Molecular Biology. He serves as a Scott M. Johnson Fellow in the U.S. Japan Leadership Program.

Research areas: Space instrument development; space missions and systems seeking, supporting life beyond Earth, from microbes to humans; astrobiology, genomics; single molecule detection; machine learning; microbial adaptation and evolution; origin of life; planetary protection.




SELFI (Submillimeter Enceladus Life Fundamentals Instrument)

Gordon Chin has been an Astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center since 1979. He obtained his PhD in Physics from Columbia University in 1977. He is the PI on the SELFI project funded under the MatISSE Program.




SLICE Spectral Signs of Life in Ice

Christine M. Foreman is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Associate Dean for Student Success in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering at Montana State University (MSU), Bozeman. Foreman earned her B.S. in biology with a chemistry minor from Baldwin-Wallace College, and she earned her Ph.D. in biology at the University of Toledo where she received a National Science Foundation (NSF) dissertation improvement grant and attended the Microbial Diversity course at Woods Hole. Christine came to MSU as an NSF Post-Doctoral Fellow in Microbial Biology. Foreman’s Research Group ( in the Center for Biofilm Engineering studies life in icy environments, including Antarctica and Greenland. Foreman has been a member of two National Academy of Science-National Research Council Committees and serves on the United States Ice Core Working Group. Her research focuses on microbial life, and what sustains this life, in cold temperature environments. Deep ice cores are a powerful tool for reconstructing the timing and extent of past changes in our Earth’s climate, while more contemporary environments provide a natural laboratory for studying microbial survival and material transformations. Studies of extremophiles are particularly valuable for providing insight into the physical limits of life. 

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Center for Life Detection Science (CLDS)

Tori Hoehler is the co-Director of the Center for Life Detection, a collaborative effort between NASA’s Ames Research Center and Goddard Space Flight Center. The center’s purpose is to inform and advance life detection strategies in support of NASA program and mission planning. A chemist and oceanographer with a 25 years’ experience in studying the relationship between environment and life from the perspective of energy flow, his present research focuses on developing a quantitative approach to assessing the ‘detectability’ of biospheres beyond Earth. He has brought this perspective into service on the Europa Clipper and Europa Lander Science Definition Teams, as well as an 8-year term as Astrobiology representative to the MEPAG goals committee.




Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB)

Sarah Stewart Johnson is an assistant professor of planetary science at Georgetown University and a visiting scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She holds a B.A. in mathematics and environmental studies from Washington University in St. Louis, a second B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics and M.Sc. in biology from Oxford University, and a Ph.D. in planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to joining Georgetown faculty, she was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. Sarah's research is driven by the goal of understanding the presence and preservation of biosignatures within planetary environments. She is also involved in the implementation of planetary exploration, analyzing data from current spacecraft and devising new techniques for future missions. Her recent projects have included searching for signs of habitability with the Curiosity Rover, studying the limits of life in Antarctica, assessing how biology affects patterns of mineralization in Mars analog environments, and helping to develop sequencing as a tool for spaceflight.



NEW MEXICO TECH | Steering Committee

Gypsum-hosted biosignatures in subterranean chemosynthetic ecosystems

Dan is an assistant professor of geobiology at New Mexico Tech, and Academic Program Director for the National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI). He holds a B.A. in Geology from Carleton College, a Ph.D. in Geosciences and Biogeochemistry from Penn State, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Prior to his position New Mexico Tech and NCKRI, Dan served as the program coordinator for the MnDRIVE Environment initiative at the University of Minnesota, and was a research associate in the University of Minnesota BioTechnology Institute. Dan is a geomicrobiologist and astrobiologist specializing in extremophiles and microbe-mineral interactions, especially in cave systems and sulfur-rich environments. See more at




fs-LDPI MS mapping of organic compounds in deep time Earth sediments: A tool for determination of the spatial distribution of lipid biosignatures at the micron scale

Sometimes identified as an organic geochemist or a biogeochemist, I prefer to consider myself a geologist. I use organic and stable isotope geochemistry as tools to address issues in earth and environmental sciences.



GEORGIA TECH | Steering Committee

How Microbes Adapt to Living in the Upper Atmosphere: Implications for Cloud Formation, and Life During Early Earth and Elsewhere in the Universe

Dr. Kostas Konstantinidis is the Richard C. Tucker Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences (by courtesy) at Georgia Tech, and Program Faculty in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. He earned his BS (1999) in Agricultural Sciences from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and his PhD (2004) from the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, under the supervision of James Tiedje. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgia Tech, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT under the supervision of Ed DeLong. The overarching goal of his research is to advance understanding of how microorganisms adapt to human-induced environmental perturbations and to cause disease. He is also interested in the biotechnological applications of microbial diversity in the bioremediation of environmental pollutants and the assessment of water quality. The great majority of microorganisms resist cultivation in the laboratory and thus cannot be studied efficiently. Therefore, another major objective of his research program is to develop novel culture-independent (e.g., metagenomics and metatranscriptomics) approaches and associated bioinformatics tools to study microbial communities in-situ, in both natural (e.g., terrestrial or marine) as well as human-associated systems. He has published 135 papers in these areas, 12 in PNAS alone, and received several international distinctions and awards for his work, including the 2010 International Skerman Award from the World Federation for Culture Collections, and a 2014 Kavli Frontier Fellowship, and is an elected member of the American Academy of Microbiology and a Highly Cited researcher by the Web of Science. His bioinformatics approaches are available for online analysis of microbial genome and metagenome data through the lab webserver, which receives >3,000 visitors each month. His lab website is available at




Probing in situ microbial activity and function using stable isotopes and substrate analogs

Roland Hatzenpichler is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Montana State University (MSU), Bozeman. Roland's research focuses on microbial ecophysiology, the study of the function and activity of microorganisms within their native habitat. Research questions addressed in his lab are: What are the factors controlling microbial in situ activity? What are the limits to metabolism in terms of energy, space, and time? What is the physiology of uncultured microbes and their contribution to global biochemical cycling? And, what is the biology of obligate multicellular bacteria lacking a single-cell stage? To address these questions, Roland's research group applies an integrative approach that bridges the two extremes of the microbial scale bar, the individual cell and the whole community, and develops new methodologies to study the metabolic activity of cells in their natural environment. 

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Xiaolei Liu


Novel thioxo-arsenolipids for arsenic biogeochemistry: a study of molecular structures, isotopes, and natural distributions to understand their biological sources and biogeochemical significance

Arsenic is a toxic metalloid that ubiquitously occurs in present-day environments and very likely was more abundant in the primordial ocean. The capacity of metabolizing arsenic by diverse microorganisms is believed to have evolved during the early evolution of Life. However, the study of arsenic biogeochemistry in deep time is hindered by the paucity of microbial fossil records. With a novel analytical application we have detected a suite of arsenolipids that are widespread in various deposition environments ranging from modern water column to over 100 Ma old black shale. These arsenic bearing compounds are not diagenetic products, but biological molecules synthesized by yet unrecognized anaerobic microbes metabolizing arsenic, and therefore represent a set of novel biomarkers for arsenic biogeochemistry. In this project arsenolipids based molecular proxy will be developed to study arsenic biogeochemistry, which could be coupled to both sulfur and
carbon cycles, in present environment and geological past.

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The Interior Life of Dunes

Shannon MacKenzie is a planetary scientist interested processes that create and rework the surfaces of icy satellites. She has investigated sediments on Titan since 2012—working with data from Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, RADAR, and Imaging Science Subsystem—with the aim of understanding how these sediments play a role in habitability and prebiotic chemistry. To that end, she is leading an effort to investigate how dunes on the Earth serve as habitable niches and whether dunes elsewhere in the solar system (such as on Titan or Mars) might also be habitable. She serves as a Co-I on the Dragonfly mission concept, assisting in the defining and implementation of the science goals and objectives as a science theme lead. She recently led a team of over 50 scientists in a study of large-class missions to Saturn’s moon Enceladus specifically to search for signs of life. The results of this study were delivered to the 2023-2032 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.


C Marshall


A feasibility study of Raman optical activity for the detection and discrimination of chiral biological compounds for planetary science instrumentation 

C Marshall is a solid-state Raman spectroscopist, and is an Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Kansas. They have a B.App.Sc (Hons) and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Technology, Sydney. They are interested in solid-state Raman spectroscopy to better understand the Raman spectra and phonon dynamics of crystalline solids such as hematite, dolomite, and graphite, which currently are poorly understood. Also, they are interested in Raman spectroscopy, astrobiology, and exploring the potential of Raman spectroscopy as a life detection technique, design, fabrication, and development of spectroscopic instrumentation for life detection.



BERKELEY | Steering Committee

The Enceladus Organic Analyzer (EOA)

Richard A. Mathies received his B. S. Degree in Chemistry in 1968 at the University of Washington working with Martin Gouterman. He earned the M. S. Degree in 1970 and the Ph. D. in 1973 in Physical Chemistry at Cornell University from Andreas Albrecht. Following two years of postdoctoral study as a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University with Lubert Stryer, he moved to the Chemistry Department at the University of California at Berkeley in 1976. From 2008-2013 he was Dean of the College of Chemistry and G. N. Lewis Professor of Chemistry.

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Biosignature Preservation in Sulfate-Dominated Hypersaline Environments

Dr. Alexandra Pontefract is an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Biology at Georgetown University. She is a geomicrobiologist interested in habitat generation through impact bombardment, life in cold and salty environments, as well as life-detection techniques and instrumentation. Dr. Pontefract has extensive Arctic field experience, and has served as science and instrument lead on several analog mission deployments. Currently she is working on biosignature detection in a range of hypersaline environments, specifically focusing on the limits of life as they pertain to water activity and chaotropicity, and is also pursuing research on the habitability of impact shocked basalts.




Oceans Across Time and Space (OAST)

Britney Schmidt is an Assistant Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, where she has built a research group focused on understanding how ice and ocean environments on planets support life. She received a B.S. in Physics from the University of Arizona, and Masters and PhD in Geophysics and Space physics from UCLA. She and her team study Earth’s ice shelves and glaciers to capture the impacts of changing climate on the cryosphere, and use these icy features to explore analogs for Europa and other ice-ocean moons. Britney has helped develop several mission concepts, including the recently selected NASA Europa Clipper mission, the NASA Europa Lander concept, and the LUVOIR Space Telescope concept. She is an investigator on the Europa Clipper REASON ice penetrating radar instrument that will look for water and characterize the ice at Europa. She is an associate of the Dawn Mission team studying the geology of icy materials on dwarf planet Ceres. Britney is an astrobiologist who has spent several years developing underwater vehicles to explore Earth, and hopefully one day, Europa.



SETI INSTITUTE | Steering Committee

In-situ Vent Analysis Divebot for Exobiology Research (InVADER)

Pablo Sobron is a research scientist with strong interests in robotic space exploration. He received his Ph.D in Physics in 2008 by the University of Valladolid, Spain. He has lead or collaborated on over 40 European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and NASA funded projects focused on the development of instruments and data processing tools for missions to explore the Solar System. Pablo is a world expert in sensing technologies in robotic Earth and planetary exploration and has led or taken part in 20+ mission level technology demonstrations in Arctic, Antarctic, Atacama, Andes, Tibet, and mine sites in several continents. He has developed and demonstrated over a dozen concepts and prototypes of in-situ mineralogy/geochemistry/biosignature detection instruments. Currently, Pablo is a Research Scientist at the SETI Institute and Founder of Impossible Sensing. Through this venture he engages in knowledge transfer activities among NASA, other federal departments/agencies, research institutions, and industry at all technology readiness levels. He is member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the NASA Mars 2020 mission and ESA ExoMars 2020 rover Science Teams. Pablo holds two NASA Group Achievement Awards.



SETI INSTITUTE | Steering Committee

Detecting the fundamental chiral building blocks of life

Dr. William Sparks obtained his Ph.D. in 1982 from the University of Wales, UK (now Cardiff University). He was a research astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore for over 30 years and is now a senior researcher at the SETI Institute. From an initial interest in the optical properties and physics of radio galaxies, galaxy clusters and their interstellar medium, his research has moved into astrobiology, exoplanet detection and characterization and the search for life. He showed microbial life can be detected remotely using circular polarization, a diagnostic of homochirality, and patented new types of polarimeter, well-suited to the task. He used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for plumes on Europa, which may offer the prospect of easier access to the liquid subsurface of Europa and a candidate location to seek evidence of extant life beyond Earth. Dr. Sparks is now leading an exobiology program to determine the ultraviolet circular polarization properties of microbial life; exploring the use of light echoes from M dwarf stellar flares as a means to detect and characterize exoplanets; and developing an innovative polarimeter through a newly formed LLC.




Toward Geophysical Detection of the Biological Modification of Ice

Dr. David Stillman is a near surface geophysicist with experience in planetary, oil, and environmental exploration. He has over a decade of experience performing electrical properties measurements at cold temperatures and conducting field geophysical surveys (primarily GPR, spectral induced polarization, resistivity, & EM-induction). His laboratory research focuses on electrical properties measurements of Martian, Europan, and Lunar analogs as a function of temperature, frequency, water/ice content, salinity, humidity, and microbial content. The purpose of these measurements is to determine radar loss and to create a library of dielectric relaxations that can be used to detect and characterize subsurface ice, unfrozen water, and life throughout the Solar System. Currently, Stillman and his colleagues are using electrical property and nuclear magnetic resonance measurements of salt-doped ice and ice-regolith mixtures to determine how ice-binding extracellular proteins change the microstructural properties of liquid vein networks. Additionally, they will determine if such changes could be detected by measuring the bulk electrical resistivity of the icy unit. Stillman also performs laboratory measurements with to measure the metastability of brine, including determining when deliquescence and efflorescence occurs. The laboratory results are then used to produce more accurate models to predict when brine formation occurs on Mars and also determine the water activity of such brine. David has been applying his laboratory knowledge of ice-water phase transitions of brines and his hydrology background to investigate the flow and recharge mechanism of Martian recurring slope lineae (RSL). He has been using spacecraft data to test his theories on RSL formation and recharge. Highlights include the discovery of (1) seasonal differences of RSL regions (2) interannual variations of RSL, (3) water budgets of all RSL demonstrate a RSL are likely not recharged via the water-poor atmosphere, and (4) recharge of northern mid-latitude RSL are consistent with a briny aquifer.



MIT | Steering Committee

Biosignatures of the 'Dirty Ice' of the McMurdo Ice Shelf: Analogues for biological oases during the Cryogenian and on other icy world

Roger Summons is Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to taking up that appointment in 2001 he was at Geoscience Australia in Canberra. At MIT his research group studies the co-evolution of Earth’s early life and environment, biosignatures of microbially-dominated ecosystems, the structures and biosynthetic pathways of membrane lipids, biological mass extinction events and the origins of fossil fuels. Summons is a collaborator on the SAM team of the Mars Science Laboratory mission and pursues his interest in Earth's early life as an investigator in the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life. See more at:




Chlorophyll d as a model for biosignature evolution

Wesley Swingley is an associate professor of microbial ecology and assistant chair for the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Illinois University. He holds a B.Sc. in biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University and a Ph.D. in microbiology from Arizona State University. In addition to his interest in astrobiology Wes is also an affiliate of the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy and NIU and actively engaged in conservation and restoration science and outreach. Wes’s research group studies the interaction between microbes and the environment, particularly the ways in which microbial community structure and metabolic potential changes in response to perturbations. The ultimate goal of his work is to learn how microbes have evolved and adapted to their environment. As a consummate space nerd, he seeks to link theories of metabolism and microbial ecology to astrobiology and life we might find on other bodies in our solar system or detect around other stars. See more at:




Targeted Life Detection in Subsurface Serpentinites

Prof. Alexis Templeton leads a Microbial Geochemistry & Mineral Spectroscopy research group at the University of Colorado. Her research focuses on defining the role of microorganisms in the cycling of mineral and aqueous forms of Fe, C, N and S in rock-hosted ecosystems.  These projects include spectroscopic, geochemical, mineralogical, isotopic and genetic characterization of the biological and abiotic mechanisms of mineral transformations and biosignature formation.




Cold and dry limit to life: Understanding microbial activity in dry permafrost samples from the newly discovered Elephants Head, Antarctica

Dr. Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert is an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She has a B.A. in Environmental Science and Physics from Barnard College and a M.S. and Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in Geobiology. She is a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow, L'Oréal FWIS Fellow, and L'Oréal International Rising Talent Award recipient. Her research focuses on microbially mediated Earth-life interactions, with the goal of identifying key players and metabolisms in past and modern environments. She integrates a range of techniques, including geochemical, gene-based, and statistical methods, and applies them across various scales, with a focus on physiologically challenging environments. 




Viruses to evolution of life and biopreservation of signals of life

Our lab group is elucidating the largest genetic repository on planet Earth – the global virome (virosphere) which is the totality of viral diversity, viral functions, viral-host interactions, and their relationship with health and the environment. The global virosphere represents the largest library of functional unknown genes on the planet. We currently lack a clear understanding regarding viral impacts on gene function, metabolism, and genetic exchange across various ecosystems, including terrestrial and host-associated habitats. Synthetic biology through engineering principles will be the key to unlocking this massive global gene repository. The bedrock of work is how "viral lifestyles", (i.e., whether lytic or lysogenic) in bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria) impacts the 'guts' of humans, plants (e.g., the rhizosphere), and modern microbialites. We are using synthetic biology to tackle human viruses COVID-19 and other RNA viruses (e.g., Influenza and Henipavirus). The goal of our work is to produce universal antivirals for RNA viruses, bacteriophage therapy for multidrug-resistant bacteria, unlocking the functional potential of the virome using computational multiomics, and use bacteriophage to geologically trap carbon as carbonates in order to mitigate climate change. Join us in our endeavor to leave this ‘pale blue dot,’ better than we found it.

RAW Lab Website




Microfluidic Life Analyzer (MILA)

Dr. Willis is currently the Group Supervisor of JPL’s Chemical Analysis and Life Detection group.  His research focuses on invention of new methods and technologies capable of identifying and characterizing signatures of extraterrestrial life at the molecular level.  Portable instrument systems developed in his group are validated in a variety of harsh terrestrial environments that range from high deserts and hypersaline lakes, to oceans and icy polar regions.  The ultimate goal is to incorporate this technology into the payloads of robotic explorers bound for the ocean worlds of our outer solar system. To that end he has played a key role in the formulation of a variety of mission concepts to explore Titan, Enceladus, and Europa. In 2017 he co-authored the “Europa Lander Mission Science Definition Team Report”, a publication which broadly serves as a guide to life detection for all future planetary missions in our solar system.



UCLA | Steering Committee

Developing Methane Isotopologues as Interplanetary Biosignatures

Edward Young is a Professor of Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry in the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at UCLA.  He works on a variety of topics related to planet formation and evolution from the perspective of isotope geochemistry, meteoritics, and observations of polluted white dwarf stars. The Young group studies the Solar System and its Galactic context with the emphasis on understanding whence we came.  Young holds a PhD from the University of Southern California, an MS from Vanderbilt University, an MA (by decree) from the University of Oxford, and a B.A. from the College of Wooster.  

Lindsay Hays
Jason Amsden
Laurie Barge
Kristin Bergmann
Ricardo Arevalo
Dina Bower
Kathleen Benison
Heather Graham
William Brinckerhoff
Christopher Carr
Gordon Chin
Christine Foreman
Tori Hoehler
Sarah Johnson
Daniel Jones
Fabien Kenig
Kostas Konstantinidis
Roland Hatzenpichler
Gordon Love
Brook Nunn
Xiaolei Liu
Shannon MacKenzie
C Marshall
Richard Mathies
Alex Ponterfract
Britney Schmidt
Pablo Sobron
William Sparks
David Stillman
Roger Summons
Wesley Swingley
Alexis Templeton
Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert
Alfonso Davila
Richard Allen White III
Peter A. Willis
Edward Young
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