Scientists Expl. Connections Between Astronomy and Biology

Hello reader!

It follows one article published on the day (01/18) in the website of the ”Agência FAPESP” noting that more than 160 scientists explore connections between Astronomy and Biology during the “São Paulo Advanced School of Astrobiology – Making Connections (SPASA 2011)”.

Duda Falcão

Articles

Scientists Explore Connections
Between Astronomy and Biology

By Fábio Castro
January 18, 2012

The São Paulo School of Advanced
cience brought together 160
scientists and students from Brazil and
abroad to debate the most recent
advances in the emerging field of astrobiology
Agência FAPESPThe more than 160 researchers, instructors and students who participated in the São Paulo Advanced School of Astrobiology – Making Connections (SPASA 2011) event between December 11 and 20, 2011, debated the most recent advances in astrobiology, a new area that explores answers to some of the most complex questions in science today.

The interface between astronomy and biology, astrobiology is an essentially interdisciplinary field that deals with questions such as the formation and detection of pre-biotic molecules on planets and in the interstellar medium, the influence of astrophysical events in the appearance and maintenance of life on Earth and the analysis of conditions for possible life on other planets or satellites, especially microbial life.

The event, held in São Paulo city as part of the São Paulo School of Advanced Sciences (ESPCA)—a FAPESP-funded program—was organized by the Universidade de São Paulo’s Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG-USP) under the coordination of Professor Jorge Horvath.

The local committee responsible for the event was coordinated by the following astrobiology researchers: Douglas Galante, Roberto Costa (IAG-USP) and Ramachrisna Teixeira (IAG-USP) from IAG-USP; Fabio Rodrigues from the USP Chemistry Institute; Rubens Duarte from the USP Oceanography Institute; Laura Paulucci from the Universidade Federal do ABC (UFABC); and Ivan Glaucio Paulino-Lima from NASA Ames.

According to Galante, the event involved 33 lecturers from Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Germany and Russia. There were 130 participants, among them students of astronomy, biology, geology, chemistry, physics and engineering from 26 different nations. Of these participants, 80 received full funding from the ESPCA, 20 received partial funding and 30 were auditors.

“It was a very intense and profitable event, exciting for both students and lecturers. The school’s main objective was to provide a general overview of astrobiology and emphasize the need for establishing interconnections between diverse areas of knowledge and between people from different areas so that complex questions such as the origin of life can be dealt with,” Galante told Agência FAPESP.

The event’s opening lectures were given by Brazilian Marcelo Gleiser from Dartmouth College (USA) and Stephen Dick, retired professor of astrophysics from the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History (USA) and ex-chief historian of NASA, the North American Space Agency.

“Gleiser spoke on the connection between astrobiology and cosmology, the science that studies the origin and evolution of the Universe. Dick gave an overview of the North American perspective on astrobiology,” said Galante.

During the mornings on the other days of the event, further content was developed in mini-courses with broad perspectives on astronomy, geology, chemistry and biology.

“Our intent was that the lecturers would show the interconnections between these areas.For example, the formation of the planets was explained from the point of view of Astronomy. Then, the way the planets developed was shown from the perspective of Geology, and later, the chemical conditions that led to the origin of life were shown,” Galante said.

The idea behind the event was that the students perceive that all the subjects discussed have a certain unity and that the complexity of the subjects involved in the origin of life can only be dealt with in the connections between the different areas of study and between the people studying these areas.

“In the afternoons, we had lectures on more specific topics—each professor spoke on particular aspects of their studies. This way, during the afternoons, the students could apply and discuss in a more specific manner the general knowledge presented to them during the mornings,” explained Galante.

Research Focus Groups

Aside from the mini-courses and lectures, the students participated in another activity: research focus groups. The students were divided into interdisciplinary groups of 8 or 9 people that had to present a complete research project at the end of the week. The presentations were 10 minutes long, and the students voted on the best projects.

“Each group developed their entire project, from choosing the topic to writing and presenting it, including proposal of a project timeline and budget,” said Galante.

The idea is that students from many areas perform a multidisciplinary integration exercise and at the same time gain practice in writing, presenting and judging a research project—something they will have to do during their entire professional lives,” he said.

The top three projects elected in the competition will be transformed into scientific articles for publication in Astrobiology magazine. The speakers’ lectures will also be published as scientific articles for publication as a special edition of the International Journal of Astrobiology.

“During the School, we also had poster presentations. The students could have their work commented on and evaluated by some of the main researchers in their fields,” told Galante.

Participants also visited the Brazilian National Laboratory of Synchrotron Light in Campinas, SP. According to Galante, the lecturers were impressed with the particle accelerator, and many participants expressed interest in doing post-doctoral work there.

There was also a lecture on the future of the Brazilian space program, presented by Thyrso Villela, a researcher at the Astrophysics Division of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) and the director of Satellites, Applications and Development at the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB).

According to Galante, the participants also visited Alto Ribeira State Park (Petar) in the south of São Paulo State, where they attended lectures on the life and geology of the caves in the region. “We expect to hold another School within the next two years,” he said.

More information: www.astro.iag.usp.br


Source: WebSite Agência FAPESP - http://agencia.fapesp.br/en/

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