© 2018 Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB)

LAB TEAM

The LAB team includes planetary scientists, biologists, chemists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and veteran instrument scientists. The investigators hail from eight US universities and institutions as well as two foreign universities.  

SARAH STEWART JOHNSON

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

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.

RESEARCH FOCUS

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.

 

HEATHER GRAHAM

NASA'S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER

Heather Graham is an organic geochemist with widely varied research experience ranging from paleoecology to phytochemistry to astrobiology. She has 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 her research on deuterium enrichment patterns in extraterrestrial materials and the origin of hydrocarbons in space she also provides 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.

RESEARCH FOCUS

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 she studied the evolution of land plants and their adaptations to light. Heather is an active science communicator with collaborations in art, theater, and digial media. She likes 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. Her favorite organism is lichen.

 
 

ERIC ANSLYN

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS

Eric V. Anslyn is a California-born American chemist, currently the holder of Welch Regents Chair as well as being a University Distinguished Teaching Professor, at University of Texas at Austin. In 2017 he was named a World Leading Researcher at Queen’s University Belfast. He has won the Izatt-Christensen Award for supramolecular chemistry, the Czarnik award for molecular sensing, and the Cope Scholar award from the ACS.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Eric's research group is interested in the physical and bioorganic chemistry of synthetic and natural receptors. They design and implement studies oriented at the development of receptors for numerous real-world applications. In specific, his group pioneered the use of differential sensing, where a series of cross-reactive receptors generate patterns indicative of the composition of complex mixtures. The technique has been applied to the analysis of kinases, wine, carbohydrates, and cell-surface features.

 

PAN CONRAD

NASA'S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER

Pan Conrad is an astrobiologist and mineralogist at the Geophysical Laboratory of The Carnegie Institution of Science. She holds Master’s degrees in diverse fields (Geology, Music, theology) as well as a PhD in Geochemistry and Mineralogy from George Washington University. Pan was formerly at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and subsequently at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Pan is scientific co-investigator to both the Mars Science Laboratory (SAM) and the Mars 2020 (SHERLOC/Watson and MEDA) missions. Her research interests focus on the evolution and decline of habitable planetary environments, as well as their characterization.

LEE CRONIN

UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW

Lee Cronin has been the Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow since 2013. He completed both a degree and PhD in Chemistry at University of York and post docs in Edinburgh and Germany before becoming a lecturer at the Universities of Birmingham, and then Glasgow since 2002. He has given over 300 international talks and has authored over 350 peer reviewed papers with recent work published in Nature, Science, and PNAS.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Lee's research is motivated by the fascination for complex chemical systems, and the desire to construct complex functional molecular architectures that are not based on biologically derived building blocks. It is trying to make artificial life forms, find alien life, explore the digitization of chemistry, understand how information can be encoded into chemicals and construct chemical computers.

 
 

ANDREW ELLINGTON

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS

Andrew Ellington is Professor of Molecular Biosciences in the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, University of Texas, Austin. He received his BS in Biochemistry from Michigan State University in 1981, and his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Harvard in 1988. His post-doctoral work was at Massachusetts General Hospital. He began his academic career as an assistant professor of Chemistry at Indiana University in 1992, andmoved to the University of Texas at Austin in 1998.

RESEARCH FOCUS

With the Ellington Lab, Andy engineers nucleic acids and proteins for biomedical and other applications. Nucleic acid biosensors (aptamers, ribozymes) and nucleic acid circuits (DNA computers) are being harnessed to diagnostic applications, especially for point-of-care diagnostics in resource-poor settings and for facile tumor detection. He develops analytical methods that apply to devices as simple as dipsticks and as complex as CMOS.

 

JAMIE ELSILA COOK

NASA'S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER

Jamie Elsila (Cook) is an astrochemist in the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She is a member of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and of the science team for the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.. She received her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2004 from Stanford and was a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at NASA Ames Research Center before moving to NASA Goddard.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Jamie's research emphasis is on abiotic extraterrestrial organic chemistry, particularly the abundances, distributions, and stable isotopic signatures of extraterrestrial organic compounds, including amino acids in carbonaceous chondrites, lunar samples, and cometary material returned by the Stardust mission.

 

PETE GIRGUIS

HARVARD UNIVERSITY

Peter R. Girguis is Professor of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and Adjunct Research Engineer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. He received his B.Sc. from UCLA, and his Ph.D. from the University of California Santa Barbara, where he worked on the physiological and biochemical adaptation of deep-sea hydrothermal vent tubeworms and their microbial symbionts to the vent environment. 

RESEARCH FOCUS

Pete studies the physiology and biochemistry of deep sea microorganisms, with an emphasis on carbon and nitrogen metabolism, to better understand their role in mediating local and global biogeochemical cycles. He also studies the physiological relationships between microbes and animals in natural systems. To that end, he applies traditional, modern, or new geochemical and molecular technologies to interrogate physiological and biochemical processes in natural systems or laboratory simulations.

 

CHRIS HOUSE

PENN STATE UNIVERSITY

Chris House is a Professor of Geosciences at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of California in 1999. He is Director of the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center and of the NASA PA Space Grant Consortium.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Chris' research interests are geomicrobiology, microbial paleontology, molecular evolution and genomics, and astrobiology.

 

CHRIS KEMPES

SANTA FE INSTITUTE

Chris Kempes is a Resident Faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. As a kid growing up in Abiquiu, New Mexico, Chris Kempes was captivated by stars and by ancient bones. As a college student studying physics and math, and later in his Ph.D. program in physical biology at MIT, those childhood interests deepened and eventually merged. 

RESEARCH FOCUS

Using mathematical and computational techniques Chris studies how simple theoretical principles inform a variety of phenomena ranging from major evolutionary life-history transitions, to the biogeography of plant traits, to the organization of bacterial communities. He is particularly interested in biological architecture as a mediator between physiology and the local environment.

 

ERIC LIBBY

UMEÅ UNIVERSITY & SANTA FE INSTITUTE

Eric Libby is an Associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at Umeå University and is based at the interdisciplinary research center Icelab. He completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Santa Fe Institute and at the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study. Before that he earned a Ph.D. in quantitative physiology from McGill University and a B.A. in computational and applied mathematics from Rice University. 

RESEARCH FOCUS

Eric's research focuses on the evolution of biological complexity– particularly the origins of multicellularity, life cycles, syntrophy, and organizational scales. Essentially, he is interested in how simple organisms evolve into complex ones. This topic is not only fascinating but it is fundamental to understanding the evolution and ecology of life– both on earth and elsewhere in the “verse”.

PAUL MAHAFFY

NASA'S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER

Paul Mahaffy is the Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA Goddard. He has participated for many years at Goddard Space Flight Center in study of planetary atmospheres and development of space qualified instrumentation. He is a Principal Investigator in the SAM project, and has a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Paul's main research interests are: (1) Planetary science, especially chemical and isotopic composition of planetary atmospheres and comets, (2) Advanced instrument development for organic and light isotope analysis in planetary targets, and (3) Analog studies for martian and cometary materials including both laboratory and field work.

 

JAY NADEAU

PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY

Jay Nadeau is an Associate Professor in Physics - Liberal Arts & Sciences at Portland State Univeristy. Having grown up in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, she often saw geologists wearing heat resistant suits and probing lava with a stick - and she really wanted to do that! 

RESEARCH FOCUS

Designing and testing instruments for observing microorganisms in their native environments, particularly in the ocean and in ice, Jay's group visits areas on Earth that are cold and dry such as Greenland, North Alaska, and Arctic Canada and are analogues for other planets, particularly Mars.

 
 

BARBARA SHERWOOD LOLLAR

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Companion of the Order of Canada and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is a University Professor in Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto. She is a Canada Research Chair in Isotopes of the Earth and Environment, Past-President of the Geochemical Society and Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. Sherwood Lollar is currently Director of the Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean Sciences Division of the Royal Society of Canada. She is 2018 Chair of the United States National Academy of Sciences Review for the Strategy for Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Universe.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Barb has published extensively in research on stable isotope geochemistry and hydrogeology, the fate of carbon-bearing fluids and gases such as CO2, CH4 and H2 in ancient fracture waters in the Earth’s crust, and the role of deep subsurface microbial populations in carbon cycling. She has been a recipient of many academic awards (including the NGWA Darcy Lecturer, Canada Council Killam Fellowship and NSERC Accelerator, and Steacie Awards), the 2012 Eni Award for Protection of the Environment, 2012 Geological Society of America Geomicrobiology and Geobiology Prize, 2014 International Helmholtz Fellowship, 2016 NSERC John Polanyi Award, 2016 Bancroft Award for the Royal Society of Canada and 2018 Logan Medal of the Geological Association of Canada.

ANDREW STEELE

CARNEGIE SCIENCE

Andrew Steele is a Staff Scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. He received his B. Sc. in biochemistry and microbiology from the University of Central Lancashire and his Ph. D. from the Universtiy of Portsmouth. Before joining Carnegie he was a postdoctoral fellow at NASA Johnson Space Center and he was a researcher at Oxford University, a lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and an assistant professor at Montana State University.

RESEARCH FOCUS

Steelie uses traditional and biotechnological approaches for the detection of microbial life in astrobiology and solar system exploration. A microbiologist by training, his principle interest is in developing protocols, instrumentation, and procedures for life detection in samples from the early Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System. Steele has developed several instrument and mission concepts for future Mars missions, and has also been studying meteorites to determine the sources and processing of their carbon.