AbGradCon 2013 Field Report

Well, given that I promised that this blog would feature astrobiology, I suppose I should actually include some astrobiology content.  So, without further ado, here are some of the more interesting things that were presented at this year’s Astrobiology Graduate Conference, in Montreal, Quebec:

-The concept of “eyeball earths”- planets that are tidally locked with a dim, cool red dwarf host star, and therefore exhibit dichotomous hemispheres (see picture)

-Dennis Hoening’s presentation, suggesting that microbial weathering may promote plate tectonics by introducing more water into the crust.  He went on to use this as evidence for the GAIA hypothesis, but given that we have no other planet that has either a complex biosphere *or* plate tectonic to compare it to, I think this is a tenuous assertion.

-Dr. Britney Schmidt’s talk on an expedition to investigate the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf- they found some pretty cool stuff, including anemones that embed themselves in the ice and grow downwards.

-Jessica Stromberg’s work, which suggests that aerobic metabolism may have actually predated the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere, developing in slightly oxygenated “oases.”

-Laurie Barge’s talk on hydrothermal vents as naturally occurring membrane fuel cells, which could power early biochemical reactions.

OSCAAR, an open-source program that allows anyone with a telescope and CCD to detect transiting exoplanets around other stars (I’m considering forwarding this info to WSU’s astronomy department, since we have a little Clarke refractor that can’t be used for any other scientific work because the light pollution from the campus is so horrid- but they would be able to do this).

-And finally, one of the last presenters at the conference was Ryan James, an information scientist specializing in scientometrics of emerging fields, who gave a talk on the health and robustness of astrobiology.  His preliminary conclusions, based on the surveys he had conducted was that 1) astrobiology has a healthy, broad distribution of age of participants (indicating that people who start in astrobiology tend to stay in it, and presumably can get jobs in the field- as opposed to an unhealthy, bimodal distribution, where you have a lot of grad students working for a lot of old masters, with little opportunity for early-and-mid career scientists), and 2) it’s really, really diverse.

I also found out I’m no longer the only person who does ecosystem modeling ,which was pretty cool.


About tessarion

Astrobiologist, environmentalist, trans lesbian, and would-be writer.
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