October 27, 1997
By Robert Irion
Two members of the National Academy of Sciences will address some of the hottest topics in the emerging field of "astrobiology" during a special afternoon colloquium this week at UCSC. The event will run from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, October 30, at the Performing Arts Second Stage (formerly the Concert Hall). It is free and open to the public.
Speakers are Norman Pace, professor of plant and microbial biology at UC Berkeley, and Richard Zare, professor of chemistry at Stanford University. Pace, an expert on the evolution of microbes on Earth, will speak on "Biological Perspectives on the Origin and Distribution of Life in the Solar System." Zare, chairman of the National Science Board and part of a team of scientists that found possible evidence of ancient life in a Martian meteorite, will discuss "Mars, Meteorites, and the Meaning of Life." Each speaker will take questions after his talk.
Astrobiology is a nascent interdisciplinary field that spans research areas as diverse as astronomy, evolutionary and molecular biology, chemistry, earth sciences, marine sciences, and physics. A particular focus of astrobiology concerns the origin and evolution of life on Earth and, possibly, elsewhere. Work by scientists on such questions will help us understand how life can evolve and thrive in extreme environments such as submarine hydrothermal vents, said colloquium organizer David Deamer, research professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC.
The colloquium also will serve to focus the interests of UCSC researchers in creating an astrobiology center, under the aegis of a proposed national headquarters in astrobiology at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. The UCSC center, Deamer said, would coordinate programs in astrobiology throughout the UC system. Scientists at NASA Ames and UCSC have worked together during the last year to identify areas in which the two institutions could collaborate.
Within a few years, Deamer noted, NASA hopes to devote about $15 million per year to research topics related to astrobiology.
For more information about the colloquium, call (408) 459-2495.
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