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Rethinking the boundaries of astrobiology

Dates
Tuesday, July 12, 2022 - 18:00 to 19:00
Location
Berrill Lecture Theatre, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK6 7AA

In her inaugural lecture, Professor Karen Olsson-Francis will explore her work relating to the survivability of microorganisms and how her interdisciplinary approach has led her to rethink the boundaries of astrobiology.

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Abstract

‘Are we alone in the Universe?’ is one of the most fundamental questions of our time and is the driving force behind the field of astrobiology. To address this question, we must first understand how microorganisms survive, and thrive, in extreme environments on Earth. These environments include those that are analogous with assumed habitable extra-terrestrial locations and so can inform our understanding of habitability and the signs of life (bio-signatures) when exploring beyond Earth.

In this lecture, Karen will discuss her work relating to the survivability of microorganisms, including those found at some of the most extreme environments on Earth and those that have been used in exposure experiments onboard the International Space station in low Earth orbit. She will demonstrate how the novel approach of combining analogue work with modelling and simulated laboratory experiments, which has been developed at The Open University, has fed into our understanding of habitability beyond the Earth.

Karen will describe how this approach has resulted in a step-change in astrobiological research, including the formation of AstrobiologyOU, of which she is Director. This unique group brings together scientists, social scientists, governance experts and educators to address the challenges associated with astrobiology and to rethink the discipline’s boundaries.

‘Are we alone in the Universe?’ is one of the most fundamental questions of our time and is the driving force behind the field of astrobiology. To address this question, we must first understand how microorganisms survive, and thrive, in extreme environments on Earth.

In my lecture, I will discuss my work relating to the survivability of microorganisms, including those at some of the most extreme environments on Earth right through to exposure experiments onboard the International Space station.

I will go on to talk about how this has led to the formation of AstrobiologyOU, a unique group, of over 50 staff and students that brings together scientists, social scientists, governance experts and educators from across the university to address the challenges associated with astrobiology.

Join me to find out more.

About Professor Olsson-Francis

Karen is Professor in Geomicrobiology, in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences. She is the Director of AstrobiologyOU, a group that brings together over 60 scientists, social scientists, governance experts and educators to create the largest interdisciplinary astrobiology group in Europe. Since 2019, Karen and AstrobiologyOU have secured over £10m of funding, including £6.7m from Research England as part of their Expanding Excellence in England scheme. Her background is in microbiology with a PhD in microbial physiology of extremophilic microorganisms from the University of Otago in New Zealand. She has over 10 years’ experience working as part of international consortia that use the International Space Station to study microbial and biosignature survival in low Earth orbit. Karen also has a track record in planetary protection and is the UK national representative on the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) International Planetary Protection panel. She is also a founding member of the European Astrobiology Institute, and an elected member of the European Astrobiology Network Association.

Timings Item
17:00 Registration and coffee/tea on arrival
18:00 - 18:40 Inaugural lecture: Rethinking the boundaries of astrobiology
18:40 - 19:00 Q&A
19:00 - 20:00 Refreshments

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