Researchers are competing for grants in a relatively new field — astrobiology. We’ll talk with the head of one team that plans to search for life in some harsh places — deep in caves and up in the clouds .
If you were going to build a house, or start a business, you wouldn’t do it without a plan. Likewise, scientists plan their research in detail — and far in advance. David Grinspoon of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, says most scientists propose narrowly focused projects. But he’s part of a group that’s venturing out into a “no man’s land” of an interdisciplinary science project. They hope to receive funding to explore topics in astrobiology — the study of life in the universe.
David Grinspoon : Yeah, it is challenging. You know, we’re all trained with different assumptions, and right now we have 16 different co-investigators on this proposal from different institutions — and we’ve all gotten together in the room and started to map out our project. And at times, it’s been challening and frustrating and we’ve gotten into fights — not coming to blows, but animated arguments where someone will make an assumption which seems reasonable to them coming from their scientific perspective. And then the people from that field will jump up and say, ‘no – you just can’t say that — we don’t know that at all.’
NASA’s Astrobiology Institute is now evaluating proposals from Grinspoon’s team and other research groups throughout the U.S. They’re expected to announce who gets the grants next month.
Grinspoon’s team plans to make computer models that can simulate how different kinds of planets are formed and also study what the climate is like on these imaginary worlds. They’ll also explore some of the most extreme environments on Earth — from caves to clouds — to see what kinds of places life can exist. Ultimately, they hope to be able to look at real places in the universe and determine how likely it is that life could exist there.
Researchers are now competing for grants in a relatively new field — astrobiology. We’ll talk with the head of one team that wants to use computers to simulate how planets are formed and go in search of life in some harsh places — deep in caves and up in the clouds.
About five years ago, scientists created a virtual institute for a new kind of research — astrobiology.