top of page

The NfoLD Webinar Series

NfoLD Webinars.png

The Biosignature Standards of Evidence Workshop Outcomes and Assessment Framework

Featuring Dr. Heather Graham, with an In-Situ/Planetary Assessment Framework Worked Example by Dr. Erica Barlow and a Remote Sensing/Exoplanet Assessment Framework Worked Example by Dr. Edward Schwieterman

29 March 2022 at 10:00 PDT (17:00 UTC)

Email for further info

About Our Speakers:

Dr. Heather Graham is an organic geochemist and research associate from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Graham's research focuses on the scientific development of tools and techniques that can help us identify “agnostic biosignatures” – evidence of living systems that may not share common biochemistry with life on Earth. Dr. Graham is also involved in studying the asteroid samples returned by the Hayabusa 2 mission. In addition to her work as an astrobiologist, she also co-wrote and directed an experimental rock opera about "Hidden Figures" Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn, more than 2 years before Hollywood.

Dr. Erica Barlow is a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Penn State University, working with the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures team. Her current research utilises field observations and a range of analytical lab techniques to explore the concept of past agnostic biosignatures (universal signs of life in rocks), to develop the tools to be able to recognise and describe fossilised life ‘as we don’t know it’ elsewhere.

Dr. Edward Schwieterman is an Assistant Professor of Astrobiology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California at Riverside. Dr. Schwieterman simulates planetary climates, atmospheric chemistry, and synthetic spectra to predict the observables of terrestrial exoplanets, including remote biosignatures. His research also includes studying early Earth environments, improving photochemical model inputs, and understanding the possible false positives and false negatives for atmospheric biosignatures

Past Webinars:

Chris Greening.png

Atmospheric trace gases: hidden energy sources enabling extreme life

Dr. Chris Greening

Monash University

22 February 2022 at 2pm PST

(23 February 2022 at 9:00 AEDT)

Email for further info

About Dr. Greening:

Associate Professor Chris Greening leads the One Health Microbiology Laboratory at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. After completing a BSc/MSc in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry (University of Oxford, 2010) and PhD in Molecular Microbiology (University of Otago, 2014), he established his group in 2016. He hosts a diverse team of microbiologists, biochemists, ecologists, and bioinformaticians seeking to understand the causes and consequences of bacterial persistence. He has published over 85 papers, the majority in highly ranked journals, and has received multiple early-career fellowships and awards. 


Talk Abstract:  

Bacteria have an extraordinary capacity to colonise even the most barren environments. Our research program has shown that bacterial colonisation and viability depends on previously unrecognized metabolic capabilities. During this seminar, I will detail the surprising finding that aerobic bacteria and archaea can ‘live on air’, i.e. scavenge atmospheric hydrogen and carbon monoxide as alternative energy sources. Through research focused on the model bacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis, I will explain the role, basis, and controls of this process. I will then provide culture-based and culture-independent evidence that diverse soil and marine bacteria also meet their energy needs through this process, before explaining that certain ecosystems such as Antarctic soils are primarily driven by atmospheric energy sources. The wider implications for these findings, including for discovering extraterrestrial life and planetary protection, will also be discussed.


Laser desorption mass spectrometry with an OrbitrapTM for planetary exploration

Dr. Ricardo Arevalo Jr.

University of Maryland

18 January 2022

Watch the Recording Here

About Dr. Ricardo Arevalo Jr.:  

Dr. Ricardo Arevalo Jr. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geology at UMD, and Director of the M-CLASS Laboratory. He has expertise in the advancement of in situ methods of chemical analysis, particularly: magnetic sector, Orbitrap, time-of-flight, and linear ion trap mass spectrometry; laser ablation and desorption sample processing; and, electron probe microanalysis (EPMA). His scientific research focuses on the analysis of planetary materials (meteorites and analog samples), establishing compositional models of planetary interiors, and characterizing the biosignature preservation potential of different mineral phases. He is the PI of the ICEE 2/CORALS, DALI/CRATER, and PICASSO/Miniature ICPMS investigations, and served as a member of the SAM Science Team and the Product Development Lead (PDL) for the mass spectrometer subsystem of the MOMA instrument on ExoMars.

Learn more at Dr. Arevalo's laboratory website




Laser desorption mass spectrometry (LDMS) techniques enable spatially-resolved chemical analysis of planetary materials, including major/minor/trace element abundances and organic inventory. In the search for prospective biomarkers, the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) onboard the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover will be the first LDMS instrument to characterize the composition of another planet in situ. Here, we describe a next-generation LDMS instrument that integrates a pulsed laser source capable of active beam scanning and precisely-controlled attenuation, and an Orbitrap mass analyzer that delivers 100× higher mass resolution and mass accuracy compared to legacy sensors. A partnership between the University of Maryland, NASA GSFC, the French CosmOrbitrap Consortium, and Thermo Scientific has enabled the development of an engineering test unit that meets the form, fit, and function of a flight instrument targeting the surfaces of Europa, Enceladus, and the Moon.

Anchor 1
InVADER sq.png

InVADER: A deep sea mission to explore oceans on earth and beyond 

Dr. Marianne Smith

Citrus College

Dr. Pablo Sobron

SETI Institute

16 November 2021

About Drs. Smith and Sobron:  

Marianne Smith is the director of the Institute for Completion at Citrus College where she focuses on policy and practice that support student retention and completion. Additionally, she serves as PI/Co-I on several NSF, USDOE, and NASA projects that provide mentoring to underrepresented STEM students and engages them in a broad array of experiential learning opportunities while also developing support systems to ensure URM students remain in STEM.  

Pablo Sobron develops sensing technologies in robotic Earth and planetary exploration that include Curiosity, Perseverance, and Rosalind Franklin rover missions.  Find out more about some of his most recent work by visiting the InVADER mission and Impossible Sensing websites. The technologies that Pablo and his teams at Impossible Sensing and the SETI Institute are developing bring unprecedented scientific capabilities to astrobiology missions on- and off-Earth and transformative capabilities to climate tech applications by combining innovative optoelectronics and deep data analytics. 




Funded by NASA PSTAR to develop new ways to explore ocean worlds, InVADER is the first-ever permanent deep-sea laboratory to study the origin of life on earth and seek life in ocean worlds. The InVADER team has completed assembly of the scientific payload and mission platform and is preparing them for launch in 2022.  Destination: Axial Seamount, the largest and most active volcano on the western boundary of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.  In this talk, Pablo Sobron will share the process from design to launch of this one-of-a-kind mission. 


One of the key objectives of the InVADER project is to provide increased opportunities for STEM education and other public outreach.  Our E/PO efforts are led by Citrus College, a two-year MSI in the Los Angeles basin.  Marianne Smith will describe our efforts, specifically targeted to underrepresented groups, to educate and build a diverse next generation of ocean explorers. 


Chirality indicators of extraterrestrial life – strengths and pitfalls

Dr. David Avnir

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

About Dr. Avnir:  

David Avnir is at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he received all his academic education, and where he held several positions, including Head of the Institute of Chemistry. His current scientific activities focus on materials chemistry, and on theoretical and experimental aspects of chirality and symmetry. Earlier major interests included fractals in chemistry, and far-from-equilibrium phenomena. He has co-authored over 400 papers, which are highly cited - 37,000 citations – with an h-index of 84. Recipient of various awards, including the Israel Chemical Society Excellence Award.



The major revolution in astronomy of recognizing the universe as teeming with exoplanets, the discovery of liquid water in solar moons and in atmospheres of exoplanets, and the continuing focus on Mars exploration, all accelerate the re-evaluation of potential biomarkers for extraterrestrial life. Based on life on planet Earth which relies heavily on chiral molecules and especially on homochiral families, the detection of molecules with these structural properties appears in all road-maps as prime indicators of extraterrestrial life. In this lecture will analyze the strengths, weaknesses and bounds of relying on chirality and on homochirality as biomarkers. Some of the main issues to be discussed include: The extent to which chirality can be expected to be a universal feature of life; evaluating whether detection of chirality is enough or do we need also to detect homochirality; evaluating how justified is it to view life on Earth as purely homochiral; analyzing the weaknesses of the left-right labeling of handedness; interpreting detected specific values of enantiomeric excess. A summary of recommendations and a brief outlook which will focus on the (amazing) excess of L-amino acids in meteorites, will close the lecture.


The Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS)

Dr. Morgan Cable

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Kalind Carpenter

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

About Dr. Morgan Cable:  

Morgan L. Cable is the supervisor of the Astrobiology and Ocean Worlds Group at JPL. Her research focuses on organic and biomarker detection strategies, through both in situ and remote sensing techniques. She also serves as the Ocean Worlds Program Scientist for the Planetary Science Mission Formulation Office, and is a Co-I on Dragonfly and a Collaborator on the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) instrument of Europa Clipper. Morgan has performed field work in extreme environments that serve as analogs for other worlds, such as the Atacama Desert in Chile, the lava fields of Iceland, and the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

About Kalind Carpenter:  

Kalind Carpenter is a Robotics Engineer in the Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators group (347B). The lab he works in focuses on rapid technology development and end effectors specifically tailored to gripping and mobility. Current work includes Principal Investigator of the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS), an adaptable mobility capability aimed to traverse through the plume vent crevasses on Enceladus to reach the ocean below the ice.


Plumbing the depths of the Enceladus, and possibly Europa, plume vents for liquid water, searching for extant life. Descending crevasses in ice sheets on Earth to discover the fate of melt water runoff and its effects for Earth science. The Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS) robotic architecture is designed to carry the latest instruments into these dynamic arenas in search of biosignatures. It is adaptable to traverse ocean world-inspired terrain, fluidized media, enclosed labyrinthian environments and liquids. It is a snake-like, self-propelled endoscope form comprising serially-replicated segments with encapsulated locomotion and bending. Multiple segments sequentially reverse rotations to reduce torsion in the endoscope, or replicate rotations to perform holonomic movements for steering. We will produce first-of-its-kind compliant Archimedes screw propulsion units that act as wheels, tracks, gripping mechanisms, and propelling units under water working as propellers. With EELS we may finally address the civilization-level science question in our own cosmic backyard: Are we alone?


Next generation instruments for astrobiology exploration

Dr. Pablo Sobron

SETI Institute

About Dr. Sobron:  

Pablo Sobron develops sensing technologies in robotic Earth and planetary exploration that include Curiosity, Perseverance, and Rosalind Franklin rover missions.  Find out more about some of his most recent work by visiting and Pablo founded Impossible Sensing in 2016 to promote technology transfer activities among NASA, other federal departments/agencies, research institutions, and industry at all technology readiness levels.


In this talk, Pablo will review his team's latest technology advances in planetary exploration. These technologies bring unprecedented scientific capabilities to astrobiology missions on- and off-Earth by combining innovative optoelectronics and deep data analytics. 

Chris German

Is this the vent-site you should be looking for? 

Earthly prejudices

Dr. Chris German

Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution

About Dr. German:  

Chris German is a geochemist who has served as Senior Scientist and former Chief Scientist of the National Deep Submergence Facility at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. To learn about his work on ocean worlds visit


Earth’s ocean is but one of many. With the ongoing discovery and exploration of multiple ocean worlds in our solar system (e.g. Enceladus, Europa, Titan), Earth is no longer the lone field site informing our understanding of fundamental ocean processes. And yet, the diversity of submarine venting on Earth does provide valuable analog insights on what could be occurring on the floor of alien oceans. In this talk, Dr. German will guide us through a visual tour of the geo-diversity of submarine venting on Earth and describe what
they can reveal about putative venting on ocean worlds.  

Microscopes for Life Detection and Explo

Microscopes for Life Detection and Exploration: From Oceans to Space

Dr. Andrew Mullen

NASA Postdoctoral Fellow, Georgia Institute of Technology

About Dr. Mullen:  
Andrew Mullen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech working with Dr. Britney Schmidt. His research there has focused on developing a submersible Digital Holographic Microscope to operate aboard the underwater robot Icefin. He has additionally conducted two field research trips to Antarctica deploying Icefin and is part of a team developing a concept instrument payload for the VERNE Europa penetrator mission study. Prior to his current position, Andrew received a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, San Diego and an MS in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. There, he designed a diver operated microscopic imaging system to study coral reefs. Andrew is broadly interested in the development and application of technology for earth and space exploration.


A microscope for life detection is a top candidate instrument for ocean world and other planetary missions. Microscopes developed for ocean, earth, and space exploration have significant overlap; with analog terrestrial environments offering excellent settings to test techniques for potential space application. 


In this talk, I will introduce the fundamentals of microscopic imaging and discuss the application of microscopes for life detection and environmental exploration. First, the basic principles of optical microscopy will be introduced, as well as a variety of enhanced imaging modalities. Next, I will discuss the history of microscopes used in space exploration and ongoing work developing microscopes for biosignature detection. Finally, I will present several different microscopic imaging systems designed for analog planetary missions and oceanographic exploration. This will include details on a submersible digital holographic microscope (DHM) being developed in collaboration with JPL for the underwater robot Icefin. I will also show results from a benthic underwater microscope used to observe seafloor organisms, and towed systems for imaging plankton.

By the end of this talk, I hope that you will have a better understanding of the diverse applications of microscopes, complementary research in space and ocean science, and the future potential of microscopes for biosignature detection.


In Situ Biosignature Searches with Raman and Fluorescence Spectroscopy: 
Challenges and Recommendations for Perseverance Rover

Dr. Svetlana Shkolyar

NASA Postdoctoral Fellow, Universities Space Research Association 

Research Scientist, Blue Marble Space Institute for Science

About Dr. Shkolyar:  
Svetlana's research interest involves life detection techniques and biosignature protocols on rocky and icy planetary surfaces using multiwavelength Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy. This has included studies involving false biosignature mimickers, spectral signatures of biogenic vs. abiogenic macromolecular carbon, protocols to help the Mars Sample Return campaign, and instrument development studies to inform missions to astrobiologically relevant targets in the solar system such as Europa and Mars. This also involves studies informing sample caching and return considerations on the Mars 2020 rover. 

Biosignature detection can come from in situ analyses of organic compounds on planetary surfaces. Raman spectroscopy (RS) and laser-induced fluorescence spectroscopy (LIFS) are two well-suited techniques for this purpose. Both are non-destructive, fast, require no sample preparation, and identify organics at ~ppb levels. NASA’s Perseverance Rover includes two first-time RS and LIFS payload mission instruments, SuperCam and SHERLOC. I will present several case studies on biosignature identification using a RS and LIFS instrument analogous to SHERLOC, a deep UV laser excitation (248.6 nm) RS-LIFS instrument. This will include examples of false-negative and false-positive biosignature detections posing challenges to successful biosignature detection. These case studies are aimed at improving the science return of SHERLOC and similar UV laser excitation RS and LIFS instruments in development for in situ identification of potential biosignatures on Mars and other solar system targets.

The Life Detection Forum Project

Dr. Tori Hoehler
NASA Ames Research Center

CLD logo.jpg

This is the first in a series of webinars that will engage the life detection research and technology community in a dialog about how to standardize the way we think about biosignatures.  

The National Academies report, An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe, recommended that, “NASA should support the community in developing a comprehensive framework…to guide testing and evaluation of in situ and remote biosignatures.” The Life Detection Forum project is an effort to foster the community-level dialog needed for development of such a framework and, on that basis, build an online platform to centralize and promote the exchange of information, ideas, and dialog relating to life detection science and technology. This webinar will be the first in a series, and will introduce the idea and rationale behind the LDF project, provide an overview of topics to be covered in the remainder of the series, and discuss ways for the community to engage in this important dialog.

Kempes Low Res.jpg

From systematic physiology
to universal principles of life

Dr. Chris Kempes
Sante Fe Institute (SFI)

About Dr. Chris Kempes

Dr. Kempes is a scientist working at the intersection of physics, biology, and the Earth sciences. Using mathematical and computational techniques, he studies how simple theoretical principles inform on a variety of phenomena ranging from major evolutionary life-history transitions, to the biogeography of plant traits, to the organization of bacterial communities. Chris also has a particular interest in biological architecture as a mediator between physiology and the local environment.

Abstract for the Webinar

A major challenge in astrobiology is understanding the full space of possibilities for living systems. A key step in meeting this challenge is to extract the general constraints from extant life and then to use these constraints to define the full range of possibilities. Organisms are subject to the laws of physics, so the process of evolution is constrained by these fundamental laws. Classic and recent studies of the biophysical limits facing organisms have shown how fundamental physical constraints can be used to predict broad-scale relationships between body size and organismal physiology. In this talk, I will discuss systematic scaling relationships for organisms along with the underlying physical, energetic, and physiological constraints and tradeoffs that can be inferred from these relationships. I will then show how these constraints can be relaxed to define a broad range of living possibilities.


Dr. Heather Graham
NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center

Thursday, 23 April, 10 am Pacific (17:00 UTC)

(Note: This webinar was not recorded)

Agnostic Biosignatures
for Extant Life Detection

About Dr. Heather Graham

Dr. Graham is an organic geochemist with widely varied research experience ranging from paleoecology to phytochemistry to astrobiology. She 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.

When not in the lab,  she is equally passionate about building casual and formal educational ecosystems that foster creativity, build diversity, and inspire scientific excellence. And she's also an active science communicator with collaborations in art, theater, and digital media.

Abstract for the Webinar

Current strategies for biosignature detection rely mainly on identification of well-established and widely accepted features and signatures associated with the biologic processes of life on Earth, such as particular classes of molecules and isotopic signatures, enantiomeric excesses, and patterns within the molecular weights of fatty acids or other lipids. As we begin to explore icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn and other destinations far beyond Earth, methods that identify unknowable, unfamiliar features and chemistries that may represent processes of life as-yet unrecognized become increasingly important.  Life detection without presumption of terran characteristics presents a formidable challenge to any astrobiology strategy. How do we contend with the truly alien? “Agnostic” approaches to biosignature and life detection are designed to target generic characteristics of life that distinguish it from abiotic chemistry. These methods require us to utilize existing instrumentation in more general ways, pursue new leads, and synthesize data with probabilistic approaches, since agnostic methods may trade definitiveness for inclusivity. This talk will outline some of the approaches under investigation in the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures, discuss potential paths towards “agnostification”, and address some of the methodological problems and knowledge gaps posed by the problem of considering “life as we don’t know it”.

danny glavin high res.jpg

The Search for Chiral Asymmetry
as a Potential Biosignature in our Solar System

Dr. Danny Glavin, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

About Dr. Danny Glavin

Daniel Glavin earned a B.S. in physics from the University of California at San Diego in 1996 and a Ph.D. in earth sciences from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2001 where he studied the amino acid and nucleobase composition of meteorites and exogenous delivery as a mechanism for delivering prebiotic organic compounds to the early Earth. He joined the 2002–03 Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) team that recovered over 900 meteorites in Antarctica. In 2003, Dr. Glavin joined the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he later cofounded the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at NASA Goddard. He was selected to be a Participating Scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission in 2011 and was part of the team that discovered the first evidence of indigenous organic compounds on Mars using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. He became NASA Goddard’s Associate Director for Strategic Science in the Solar System Exploration Division in 2014. Dr. Glavin is a Co-Investigator on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission. In recognition of Dr. Glavin’s meteorite research, the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after him, asteroid (24480) Glavin. He has received numerous awards including the 2007 NASA Goddard Internal Research and Development Innovator of the Year Award, the 2010 Nier Prize from the Meteoritical Society, and the 2014 NASA Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Achievement Award for Science.

Abstract for the Webinar

The search for evidence of extraterrestrial life in our Solar System is currently guided by our understanding of terrestrial biology and its associated biosignatures. The observed homochirality in all life on Earth, that is, the predominance of “left-handed” or L-amino acids and “right-handed” or D-sugars, is a unique property of life that is crucial for molecular recognition, enzymatic function, information storage and structure and is thought to be a prerequisite for the origin or early evolution of life. Therefore, the detection of L- or D-enantiomeric excesses of chiral amino acids and sugars could be a powerful indicator for extant or extinct life on another world.  However, studies of primitive meteorites have revealed they contain extraterrestrial amino acids and sugar acids with large enantiomeric excesses of the same chirality as terrestrial biology resulting from non-biological processes, complicating the use of chiral asymmetry by itself as a definitive biosignature. Here we review our current knowledge of the distributions and enantiomeric and isotopic compositions of amino acids and polyols found in meteorites compared to terrestrial biology and propose a set of criteria for future life detection missions that should be used to help establish the origin of chiral asymmetry.  Significant advances in spaceflight-qualified sample extraction, purification, and chromatographic separation technologies coupled with high-resolution mass spectrometry are needed to make these measurements. Given the complexity and limited duration of spaceflight operations and the analytical challenges associated with in situ analyses of complex organics in extraterrestrial samples, returning samples to Earth may ultimately provide the best chance to firmly establish the origin of chiral asymmetry and other potential biosignatures in our Solar System.

See this Chemical Reviews Manuscript

bottom of page