The Astrobiology Science Conference 2015 (AbSciCon2015) was held at the Hilton in Chicago on June 15-19. The Summons Lab was well represented, with postdocs and postgraduate students presenting oral and poster presentations of their work. The conference brings together scientists who work on the interdisciplinary field of astrobiology. The focus of AbSciCon2015 was on habitability in our solar system and beyond, and the origin and evolution of life on early Earth. Summons Lab research presented at the meeting was funded by a variety of sources such as NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Simons Collaboration on Origins of Life, the Agouron Institute, the Irish Research Council and the Marie Curie Actions Programme. There was an abundance of fascinating panel discussions, plenary sessions, and oral and poster sessions over the course of the week. Here are some of the highlights from the Summons Lab.
Tuesday morning kicked off with a fascinating panel discussion on biosignatures of life, which included Roger as an expert panel member (image below courtesy of @dstryco).
On Tuesday, many members, and collaborators, of the Summons Lab presented their work in the session about how studying modern microbes can inform our understanding of ancient Earth ecosystems. Emily presented her exciting recent work on biological diversity of microbial structures in Antarctic ice-covered lakes, and did a great job. Bosak Lab member and Summons Lab collaborator, Sharon Newman, presented her work on cyanobacterial fossilization by clay minerals. Sharon gave a great presentation and received much interest during questions, which extended into the break.
David did a very impressive job, both chairing a session, and delivering an excellent talk investigating the sponge sterol biomarker hypothesis using comparative genomics and organic geochemical approaches. Shane presented his recent work on the microbial contribution to ooid formation from a Pigeon Cay in the Bahamas and its broader implications for the meaning of these enigmatic grains in the Geological Record. Former Summons Lab member, Paula Welander, and recent addition to Geobiology at MIT, Gregory Fournier, also gave excellent presentations in this session.
On Thursday, Genming presented his impressive recent work using bulk carbon isotopes and stratigraphy to reconstruct autotrophic microbial responses after the Paleoproterozoic Great Oxidation Event. Ross also did a great job and got a lot of interest and positive feedback when he presented his work reconstructing terrestrial plant and marine algal responses to Eocene warming using biomarker and stable isotope records from his field site in NW India. Mary Beth, a visiting student from Georgia Tech and NASA Ames, also presented her work on the preservation of lipid biomarkers in the Atacama Desert in Chile. On Friday, former Summons Lab postdoc Christian Hallmann gave a talk on the use of stable nitrogen isotopes of Ediacaran porphyrins to gain an insight into Neoproterozoic nitrogen cycling.
It was a great week for the Summons Lab in Chicago, and looking forward to the next AbSciCon conference!
Summons lab postdoc Kristen Miller recently gave a presentation to the lab group about the capabilities and operating procedures of the CDS 5250T Pyroprobe, an instrument that allows (amongst other things) whole-rock samples and entire microfossils to be analyzed by GCMS. We have posted a summary of her presentation to the Facilities section of our website here.
Wonder where they went after they left MIT? Here are the current placements of a number of recent Summons lab alumni over the last few years. To see more, head over to the Alumni page.
Jake Waldbauer, a former graduate student, is now Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago. There’s a short piece about his arrival at Chicago here, and he’s quoted in this piece in Chicago’s university magazine. You can find his contact details in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences faculty directory.
Paula Welander, a former postdoc, is now Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford University. There’s an article about her here, and her lab website here.
Alex Bradley, a former graduate student, is now Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. You can find his lab website here, including this nice description of his work. You can also keep up with him on Twitter.
Amy Kelly, former graduate student, is now Geochemist/Basin Modeller at Shell International Exploration and Production. She also teaches at the University of Houston Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
Phoebe Cohen, onetime Summons lab postdoc and Education/Public Outreach Lead for the NASA Astrobiology Institute team headquartered at MIT, is now Assistant Professor of Geosciences at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. You can read about her work in the Berkshire Eagle (a newspaper of record for Western Massachusetts) here, and check out her lab website here. Phoebe also won the 2012 Subaru Outstanding Woman in Science Award. You can hear her talking about chasing rocks and bears in her Story Collider podcast episode.
Christian Hallmann is a former postdoc who now leads the Organic Paleobiogeochemistry Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry at Jena; Chris also holds a joint appointment as Staff Scientist at MARUM in Bremen. You can visit his group’s website here and his webpage at MARUM here.
Roger Summons explains the role of microbial activity in the formation of oolitic sand
In June 2013, Roger Summons and postdoc Ben Kotrc, with colleague Tanja Bosak, embarked on a field excursion to several sites in Western Australia as part of an Education and Public Outreach project under the auspices of the NASA Astrobiology Institute headquartered in the Summons lab and carried out in partnership with our NAI colleagues at ASU. The aim of the trip was to gather material for developing a Virtual Fieldtrip to several sites of tremendous importance to understanding early life—including Shark Bay, home to the best-known living stromatolites, Karijini National Park, with spectacular exposures of Banded Iron Formation linked to the oxygenation of the atmosphere, and North Pole dome, home to some of the oldest evidence of life.
Tagging along with the Astrobiology Grand Tour organized by Malcolm Walter of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW, and teaming up with our VFT-making colleagues Ariel Anbar, Geoffrey Bruce, Lev Horodyskyj, and Jessica Swann from ASU, we returned with 13 location-based sphericals for that “Google street view” pan-around-360˚ experience, 4 gigapans, 277 video clips and well over 2000 images.
As an exciting first this year (the Summons lab has been working on the development of these VFTs for several years), Geoffrey Bruce brought a video-camera-equipped quad copter (think: drone), capturing a dramatic new perspective—from high up in the sky—at sites like the stromatolites in Shark Bay and fly-throughs of Dales Gorge at Karijini National Park.
A majority of Summons lab members traveled to the island of Tenerife, Spain last week to attend the 26th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry (IMOG 2013). Posters and presentations delivered included:
- Recent graduate Sara Lincoln on DISENTANGLING MARINE PLANKTONIC ARCHAEAL COMMUNITIES AND THEIR MEMBRANE LIPID ASSEMBLAGES,
- Roger Summons on THE BIOGEOCHEMISTRY OF OOIDS AND OOLITES,
- Julio Sepúlveda on VERTICAL AND SPATIAL DISTRIBUTION OF INTACT AND CORE ARCHAEAL LIPIDS IN RESPONSE TO OXYGENATION GRADIENTS,
- Kate French on ASSESSING THE DISTRIBUTION OF CAROTENOIDS THROUGH TIME USING TANDEM MASS SPECTROMETRY,
- Sharon Newman on ETHER LIPID ASSESSMENT AT THE SEMAIL OPHIOLITE, OMAN: MICROBIAL DIVERSITY IN A SERPENTINITE-HOSTED ECOSYSTEM,
- Florence Schubotz on the INFLUENCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PARAMETERS ON MICROBIAL MEMBRANE LIPID DISTRIBUTION AT HOT SPRINGS IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK as well as (!) BACTERIAL SOURCES FOR BETAINE LIPIDS IN ANOXIC MARINE SEDIMENTS,
- Emily Matys on BACTERIOHOPANEPOLYOLS IN OCEAN WATERS SUBJECT TO OXYGENATION GRADIENTS,
- Ross Williams on COMBINED BACTERIAL MEMBRANE LIPID AND COMPOUND-SPECIFIC ISOTOPIC INVESTIGATION OF EOCENE ARCTIC PALEOSOLS.
Roger Summons is featured in an article in The Onion, entitled “Planet Earth Doesn’t Know How To Make It Any Clearer It Wants Everyone To Leave.”