2020 Explorigins Colloquium

Colloquium Flyer

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,

On behalf of Georgia Tech Astrobiology and the ExplOrigins early career group, we invite you to join us for the 2020 Exploration and Origins Colloquium.
Please click HERE to register or submit a poster abstract.
The colloquium kicks off with a poster session on Monday January 27th, and continues with a day of plenary lectures, contributed talks, and a breakout networking session on Tuesday, January 28th. If you have any questions regarding the abstract submission process, please email the conference organizers at info.gt.astrob.colloq@gmail.com. Thank you for your consideration.


January 27th, 2020, MoSE 1st and 2nd Floor Atrium 
5:00 PM – 7:00 PM: Poster Session

January 28th, 2020, IBB Suddath Seminar Room
8:00 AM – 8:45 AM: Coffee and Poster Viewing
8:45 AM – 8:50 AM: Welcome from College of Sciences Dean Susan Lozier
8:50 AM – 9:00 AM: Exploration and Origins Colloquium Welcome
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM: Plenary 1
                                        Mariel Borowitz
Astrobiology: Science, Technology, Policy, and Politics
10:00 AM – 10:15 AM: Coffee Break
10:20 AM – 12:00 PM: Morning Session (Introduction: Tyler Roche)

      1. Kynan Hughson: Possible pingo analogs may populate Ceres
      2. Micah Schaible: In situ characterization of elemental compositions for small bodies throughout the Solar System
      3. Bradley Burcar: The impact of CO2 and cyanide in prebiotic environments on mineral formation and urea-based phosphorylation reactions
      4. Kelvin Smith: Mechanistic Investigation of Depsipeptides in the Early Earth Through Kinetic Monte Carlo Framework
      5. Petar Penev: Eukaryotic-like ribosomal RNA region in Lokiarchaeota

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: Lunch (MoSE 1st and 2nd floor atrium)
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Plenary 2 —
                                     Christopher Carr: A Direct Search for Life As We Know It and Don’t Know It
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Afternoon Session 1 (Introduction: Taylor Plattner)

      1. Nadia Szeinbaum: Synthetic microbial consortia to explore cooperation on early Earth
      2. Anthony Burnetti:The dual origins of phototrophy and major evolutionary transitions.
      3. Devon Cole: Stability of atmospheric oxygen levels and ocean ventilation

3:00 – 3:15 PM: Coffee Break
3:15 – 5:00 PM: Afternoon Session 2 (Introduction: Chase Chivers)

      1. Philip SzotVertical Entry Robot for Navigating Europa (VERNE) Mission and System Design
      2. Loren Dean Williams: Polymers versus Metabolism
      3. Adriana Lozoya Colinas: DNA replication facilitated by a prebiotic solvent
      4. Aaron Pital: Semantic mining of chemical origins from non-chemistry disciplines

5:00-6:00: Networking breakout session

Plenary Speakers

Mariel Borowitz

Assistant Professor, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs,
Georgia Institute of Technology

Astrobiology: Science, Technology, Policy, and Politics

Mariel Borowitz is an Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. Her research deals with international space policy issues, including international cooperation in Earth observing satellites and satellite data sharing policies. She also focuses on strategy and developments in space security and space situational awareness. Dr. Borowitz earned a PhD in Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Masters degree in International Science and Technology Policy from the George Washington University. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Borowitz completed a detail as a policy analyst for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC from 2016 to 2018. Her book, “Open Space: The Global Effort for Open Access to Environmental Satellite Data,” was published by MIT Press in 2017.

Christopher E. Carr

Research Scientist, MIT
Research Fellow, MGH

A Direct Search for Life As We Know It and Don’t Know It

Christopher E. Carr is an engineer/scientist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. He serves as the Science PI or PI for several life detection instrument and/or astrobiology projects. He is broadly interested in searching for and expanding the presence of life beyond Earth while enabling a sustainable human future. He is currently a Research Scientist at MIT in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and a Research Fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the Department of Molecular Biology. He also serves as a Scott M. Johnson Fellow in the U.S. Japan Leadership Program. This summer he will join the Georgia Tech faculty as an Assistant Professor in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, with a secondary appointment in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

2020 Exploration and Origins Colloquium:

This interdisciplinary colloquium will highlight space exploration science and origins research going on at the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as neighboring universities. The goals of the colloquium are to forge relationships between diverse individuals, encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary understanding, and kick-start future fundable projects requiring the skills and expertise of multi-lab teams.

As previously, the colloquium will be roughly split into two sections: Exploration and Origins. While outlines of the two sections are provided below, the scope of abstracts considered will be broad. Past submissions have been from the departments of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Biology, Physics, Mathematics, and multiple engineering departments.  We emphasize that all interested parties are welcome regardless of discipline or affiliation. 
Exploration: For the Exploration session, we are particularly interested in submissions that deal with any and all aspects of reaching beyond to explore the nature of diverse environments. Examples include space technology development, spacecraft mission design, planetary science modeling, biological or ecological fieldwork and direct observations of extrasolar systems; in short, exploring what is  ‘out there’, wherever ‘there’ is.
Origins: Submissions for the Origins session are encouraged to include some aspect of reaching back to understand the nature of the world today. Examples include cosmology and the origins of life itself, the emergence of multicellularity, the evolution  of  minerals, complex chemistry, atmospheres, and biological molecules or processes, and the formation of  planetary systems; basically, how did we get here?
Abstract Pages:

The pages linked here contain a selection of abstracts from our submitting attendees.

Presentations | Posters

Poster Guidelines:

The poster boards we will be using have dimensions 36″ by 42″. You may choose to set your poster up in a portrait or landscape orientation.

The organizing committee:

Aaron Pital (Graduate Student, Chemistry and Biochemistry)
Chase Chivers (Graduate Student, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) 
Christina Buffo (Graduate Student, Chemistry and Biochemistry)
Tyler Roche (Graduate Student, Chemistry and Biochemistry)
Rebecca Guth-Metzler (Graduate Student, Chemistry and Biochemistry)
Taylor Plattner (Graduate Student, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Micah Schaible (Postdoctoral Fellow, Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Funding and Support:

We are grateful for the funding and support provided by CSTAR, GT Conference Support, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Frank Rosenzweig (NAI, CAN-7) 

2019 Explorigins Colloquium

Explorigins Colloquium


Thursday, March 28

“Ocean Worlds of the Outer Solar System”
Public Lecture and reception
Dr. Kevin Hand
Smithgall 117 Lecture Hall, 353 Ferst Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30313, 6:30pm with reception to follow

Friday, March 29

  • 8:15 AM – 9:00 AM: Coffee and Poster Setup
  • 9:00 AM – 9:10 AM: Welcome notes

Topic: Planetary Science and Exploration

  • 9:10 AM – 10:10 AM: Plenary 1: Paul Steffes, Georgia Institute of Technology, “Radio Science: From Uncovering Jupiter’s Formation to Searching for Intelligent Life in Our Galaxy”
  • 10:10 AM – 10:30 AM: Zach Siebars, “Multi-functional Composites for Space Travel: Design Considerations Using Reduced Graphene Oxides as Additives in Polymers”
  • 10:30 AM – 10:50 AM: Adrian Ildefonso, “Silicon-Germanium Platforms: an Enabling Technology for Next-Generation Space Systems”
  • 10:50 AM – 11:00 AM: Coffee break
  • 11:00 AM – 11:20 AM: William Jun, “Design of an Interplanetary Radionavigation System for Surface Geolocation”
  • 11:20 AM – 11:40 AM: Justin Lawrence, “Developing Ocean World Exploration Strategies and Hardware Below Antarctic Ice Shelves”
  • 11:40 AM – 12:00 PM: Billy Quarles, “Habitability of Exoplanets Around Sunlike Stars”
  • 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: Lunch, atrium of Krone Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB)

Topic: Life Origins and its Detection

  • 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Plenary 2: Sara Walker, Arizona State University
  • 2:00 PM – 2:20 PM: Aaron McKee, “Proto-oligopeptides at Mineral Interfaces: Interactions of Silica and an Expanded Prebiotic Peptide inventory”
  • 2:20 PM – 2:40 PM: Moran Frenkel-Pinter, “Chemical Mutualism of Prebiotic Mixtures of Cationic Depsipeptides and RNA”
  • 2:40 PM – 2:50 PM: Coffee break
  • 2:50 PM – 3:10 PM: Jefferey Skolnick, “Studies on the Origin of Protein Chirality, Biochemical Function, and Strcture”
  • 3:10 PM – 3:30 PM: David Fialho, “Plausible Prebiotic Formation and Supramolecular Assembly of Depsipeptide Nucleic Acid Oligomers”
  • 3:30 PM – 3:50 PM: Nadia Szeinbaum, “A Synthetic Microbial Consortium to Explore Cooperation on Early Earth”
  • 3:50 PM – 4:15 PM: Coffee break
  • 4:15 PM – 7:00 PM: Poster session and Colloquium reception

Building on the success of the 2018 Astrobiology Colloquium, Georgia Tech Astrobiology and ExplOrigins groups are proud to announce the 2019 Exploration and Origins Colloquium, which will take place on March 28-29, 2019. This is the 2nd annual networking event under the theme of exploring the universe and origins of life.

This year the colloquium is split in two sections: the first section is focused on space exploration technology and planetary science, and the second is oriented toward the chemistry and biology of the origins and the search for life. The event will consist of presentations and talks by early career scientists, i.e. graduate and undergraduate students, and post-doctoral fellows, working in the exciting fields of space and planetary science, engineering and astrobiology across Georgia Tech campus and the greater Atlanta. There will also be plenary lectures given by distinguished members of the global astrobiology community. The objective of this interdisciplinary colloquium is to forge connections across the kinds of research at Georgia Tech straddling the boundaries between technology development and hypothesis testing in the search for life’s beginnings and to explore collaborative ideas among participants. Hence, senior researchers and faculty are also highly encouraged to attend.

Plenary Speakers:

Kevin Hand, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. Kevin Peter Hand is a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. His research focuses on the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the solar system with an emphasis on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. His work involves both theoretical and laboratory research on the physics and chemistry of icy moons in the outer solar system. Hand is the Director of the Ocean Worlds Lab at JPL. He served as co-chair for NASA’s Europa Lander Science Definition team and he is the Project Scientist for the Pre-Phase-A Europa Lander mission. From 2011 to 2016 he served as Deputy Chief Scientist for Solar System Exploration at JPL. He served as a member of the National Academies Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences. His work has brought him to the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, the sea ice near the North Pole, the depths of the Earth’s oceans, and to the glaciers of Kilimanjaro. Dr. Hand was a scientist onboard James Cameron’s 2012 dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and he was part of a 2003 IMAX expedition to hydrothermal vents in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He has made nine dives to the bottom of the ocean. In 2011 he was selected as a National Geographic Explorer. Hand earned his PhD from Stanford University and bachelor’s degrees from Dartmouth College. He was born and raised in Manchester, Vermont.

Sara Walker, Arizona State University

Professor Walker is an astrobiologist and theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, the Deputy Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, and the Associate Director of the ASU-Santa Fe Institute Center for Biosocial Complex Systems. She is also Co-founder of the astrobiology-themed social website SAGANet.org, and a member of the Board of Directors of Blue Marble Space. Her work centers on in the origin of life and how to find life on other worlds. She is most interested in whether or not there are ‘laws of life’ – related to how information structures the physical world – that could universally describe life here on Earth and on other planets. She is active in public engagement in science, with appearances at the World Science Festival and on “Through the Wormhole” and NPR’s Science Friday

Paul Steffes Georgia Institute of Technology

Professor Steffes performed his doctoral research at Stanford University where he concentrated on microwave radio occultation experiments using the Voyager and Mariner spacecraft, with specific interest in microwave absorption in planetary atmospheres. Then, in 1982, he joined the faculty of Georgia Tech and is currently a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research focuses on microwave and millimeter-wave remote sensing and radio astronomy and has been sponsored by NASA, the NSF, the SETI Institute and by industry. He has been involved with numerous NASA missions, including Pioneer-Venus, Magellan, the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS), the High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS), and Juno (Jupiter Polar Orbiter).


Kevin Hand Public Lecture “Ocean Worlds of the Outer Solar System”: Smithgall 117 Lecture Hall (Student Services Building), 353 Ferst Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30313

Keynote and oral presentations will be in the Children’s Health Care of Atlanta Seminar Room (EBB 1005), Krone Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB), 950 Atlantic Drive, NW, Atlanta. GA 30332.

The poster session and networking event will be in held the 1stand 2nd floor atria of the Molecular Science and Engineering Building (MoSE), 901 Atlantic Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30318.

For all questions, please contact us

We are grateful for funding and support from The Georgia Tech Strategic Plan Action Group (SPAG), the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS), The NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE), The School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering,  and the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Continue reading “2019 Explorigins Colloquium”

2018 Georgia Tech Astrobiology Colloquium


March 30th, 2018

Georgia Tech Astrobiology is proud to announce that the 2018 Astrobiology Colloquium will take place on March 30th, 2018. This is a new early career event for the Georgia Tech astrobiology community and will consist of presentations and talks by students (both graduate and undergraduate) and post-doctoral fellows working in astrobiology, space science, and engineering across the Georgia Tech campus and greater Atlanta. There will also be plenary lectures given by distinguished members of the global astrobiology community.Our theme, for what we hope is the inauguration of an annual event is: Exploring Life Origins and the Universe: A Networking Event. As such, in addition to our early career speakers, poster presentations, and our plenary lectures, there will be networking and innovation platform activities to forge connections and explore collaborative ideas among participants. Hence, senior researchers and faculty are highly encouraged to attend.

Registration for the 2018 Georgia Tech Astrobiology Colloquium is now closed as the event has reached capacity. However, an overflow space with a direct feed to the conference presentations is available in the Suddath Symposium Room located on the first floor of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience Building (IBB).  This room will have a view-only feed from the main colloquium in EBB and is open to the entire campus community. Space is limited and first come-first served.

For colloquium updates and notifications please join our mailing list by clicking here

(Please Note: This is an announcement e-mail list only for updates about the colloquium.)

For all other questions, please contact us

Plenary Speakers

Organizing Committee

Faculty Advisors

Martha Grover

Glenn Lightsey

Jennifer Glass

Exploring Life Origins and the Universe: Program

March 30, 2018

  • 8:15-9:00: Coffee and Poster Setup
  • 9:00-9:10: Welcome by Paul M. Goldbart, Dean of Georgia Tech College of Sciences
  • 9:10-10:10: Plenary 1: Ada Yonath, Weizmann Institute, Israel
    What Was First, the Genetic Code or its Products? 
  • 10:10-10:30 Coffee Break and Posters 1
  • 10:30-10:45: Burcar, B.; Lago, J.; Pasek, M.; Menor-Salvan, C.; Hud, N.
    Phosphorylation in Urea-Rich Eutectic Solvents
  • 10:45-11:00: Taran, O.
    Iron Sulfide Minerals in Prebiotic Redox Chemistry
  • 11:00-11:15: McKee, A.
    A Possible Path to Prebiotic Peptides Involving Mineral Substrates and Hydroxy Acid-mediated Amide Bond Formation
  • 11:15-11:30: Fialho, D.; Clarke, K.; Moore, M.; Schuster, G.; Krishnamurthy, R.; Hud, N.
    Glycosylation of a Model Proto-RNA Nucleobase with non-Ribose Sugars: Implications for the Prebiotic Synthesis of Nucleosides
  • 11:30-11:45: Solano, M.; frenkel-Pinter, M.; Grover, M.; Hud, N
    Selection and Assembly of Prebiotically Plausible Protopeptides
  • 11:45-12:00: Bray, M.; Bowman, J; Petrov, A.; REddi, R.
    Iron: Primordial Cofactor for the Translation System
  • 12:00-1:15: Lunch, atrium of the Integrated Biosciences Building (IBB)
  • 1:15-2:15: Plenary 2: Niles Lehman, Portland State University
    Scrambling to Build the RNA World
  • 2:15-2:35: Coffee Break and Posters 2
  • 2:35-2:50: Márquez-Zacarías, P.; Ratcliff, W. C.
    How to Describe Exo-Evo? An Organismal Approach to Evolutionary Dynamics
  • 2:50- 3:05: Chen, K.; Rosenzweig, R. F.; Herron, M. D.
    Genetic Basis Underlying De Novo Origins of Multicellularity in Response to Predation
  • 3:05-3:20: Szeinbaum, N.; Henry, C.; Crowe, S. A.; Stewart, F. J.; DiChristina, T. J.; Reinhard, C. T.; Nunn, B. L.; Glass, J. B.
    Metaproteomics Reveals a Novel Betaproteobacterium with Roles in Metal and Nitrogen Cycling in the Deep Subsurface
  • 3:20-3:35: Krafft, A.; Colvin, T.; Homar, K.; Lynch, K. L.; Greene, R. Fitzsimmons, R.; Zaharescu, G. D.
    The Embedded Scientist Program 
  • 3:35-3:50: Lourenco, N. E.; Williams, W. L.; Coen, C. t.; Frounchi, M.; Cressler, J. D.
    MicroNimbus: a Spaceborne mm-Wave Temperature Profilometer for the Earth’s Atmosphere
  • 3:50-4:05: Duca, Z.; Cantrell, T.; Speller, N. C.; Stockton, A. M.
    Quantitative, Compositional Analysis of Trace Amino Acids in Europa: analogues with a modular μCE-LIF System
  • 4:05-4:55: Transport to Evening Venue
  • 4:55-5:45: Round Table Activities
  • 5:45-6:15 Summary and Wrapup
  • 6:00: Dinner, Ironmonger Brewing, Marietta, GA
  • 7:00: Plenary 3: Shawn Domagal-Goldman, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
    LUVOIR: An Astrobiology Mission to Targets Near and Far
  • 9:00: Transport back to Georgia Tech