2021 Exploration and Origins Colloquium

Explorigins Colloquium

Dear Astrobiology, Origins, and Space Enthusiasts,

The ExplOrigins early career group invites you to join the 2021 Exploration and Origins Colloquium! This virtual colloquium will have events spanning two days: 

Wednesday, February 17th: Poster Session 

Thursday, February 18th: Research talks and Mars 2020 Perserverance Landing viewing

Our aim is to highlight work involving space exploration; biological, geological, and astronomical origins; and astrobiology of any sub-field at Georgia Tech and beyond.

Through this colloquium, we hope to:

      • forge relationships between diverse individuals of various fields, experience levels, and backgrounds
      • expand our internal awareness of local work an dinnovations
      • encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary understanding
      • provide a professional growth opportunity for early career individuals including undergraduates, graduates, and post-docs

For registration and abstract submission, complete the form linked below by the end of the day on January 21st (see update below). Announcement of selected speakers and poster presentations will be made on January 25th.

Update: The abstract deadline has been extended to January 29th! Get those abstracts in!


Georgia Tech astrobiologists develop COVID-19 test kit

Astrobiology News

In spring-summer 2020, Georgia Tech astrobiologists teamed up to create an in-house test kit to boost testing supplies. Read the NASA press release here.

Pre-print posted to MedRxiv on July 31, 2020:

SJ Mascuch, S Fakhretaha-Aval, JC Bowman, MTH Ma, G Thomas, B Bommarius, C Ito, L Zhao, GP Newnam, KR Matange, HR Thapa, B Barlow, RK Donegan, NA Nguyen, EG Saccuzzo, CT Obianyor, SC Karunakaran, P Pollet, B Rothschild-Mancinelli, S Mestre-Fos, R Guth-Metzler, AV Bryksin, AS Petrov, M Hazell, CB Ibberson, PI Penev, RG Mannino, WA Lam, AJ Garcia, JM Kubanek, V Agarwal, NV Hud, JB Glass, LD Williams, RL Lieberman. Buzz about RT-qPCR: An RT-qPCR formulation for SARS-CoV-2 detection using reagents produced at Georgia Institute of Technology. MedRXiv [link]

Widespread testing for the presence of novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in patients remains vital for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic prior to the advent of an effective treatment. The early testing shortfall in some parts of the US can be traced to an initial shortage of supplies, expertise and/or instrumentation necessary to detect the virus by quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Here we show that academic biochemistry and molecular biology laboratories equipped with appropriate expertise and infrastructure can produce the RT-qPCR assay and backfill pipeline shortages. The Georgia Tech COVID-19 Test Kit Support Group synthesized multiplexed primers and probes and formulated a master mix composed of enzymes and proteins produced in-house. We compare the performance of our in-house kit to a commercial product used for diagnostic testing and describe implementation of environmental testing to monitor surfaces across various campus laboratories for the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

Test Kit Figure 1

Image by Rebecca Guth-Metzler, PhD candidate, advisors: Loren Williams and Jennifer Glass (Figure 1 in Mascuch et al. 2020, MedRXiv [link].

New T-shirts have arrived!

Astrobiology News

Thank to funding from College of Sciences, artistic design and organization by Taylor Plattner, and hard work of Belal Elnaggar, we now have GT Astrobiology t-shirts!

Group photo to come this fall!

Here are Belal Elnaggar, Claire Elbon, and Abbie Johnson sporting the new shirts!

Our new co-director: Dr Frances Rivera-Hernández


Please join me in welcoming onboard the new co-director of the Georgia Tech Astrobiology Program: Dr. Frances Rivera-Hernández ! Dr. Rivera-Hernández will be leading the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Seminar Series starting this fall 2021. Read more about Dr. Rivera-Hernández and her exciting research below!

PSAS: Book talk – Sociology of Spacecraft Mission Teams


Professor Vertesi specializes in the sociology of science, knowledge, and technology. Her primary research site is with NASA’s robotic spacecraft teams as an ethnographer. Her books, Seeing like a Rover: Images and Interaction on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Chicago, 2015) and Shaping Science: Organizations, Decisions, and Culture on NASA’s Teams (Chicago, 2020) draws on her ethnographic studies of missions to Mars, Saturn, and the outer planets to examine how organizations matter to scientific discovery. Vertesi is also a leader in digital sociology, whether studying computational systems in social life, shifting research methods online, or applying social insights to build technologies along different lines. She holds a Master’s degree from Cambridge and a PhD from Cornell, has received several grants from the National Science Foundation, and has been awarded top prizes for her work from the ASA’s Science, Knowledge and Technology Section and Communication, Information Technology and Media Section, and the Society for Social Studies of Science.

Janet Vertesi,
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology at Princeton University

PSAS: Weather on extrasolar worlds


As observations of exoplanet atmospheres have grown in number and fidelity, spanning a larger
wavelength range at ever-higher spectral resolution, they have provided unprecedented constraints
for exoplanet atmospheric models. These datasets allow us to probe their atmospheric properties,
including the composition and spatial distribution of clouds. In this talk I will discuss efforts to
understand the advective, radiative and chemical processes taking place in giant exoplanet
atmospheres via three-dimensional (3D) circulation modeling, and how they serve to inform
comparative exoplanetology studies of transiting giant planets using the Spitzer and Hubble Space
Telescopes (and soon the James Webb Space Telescope). I will also discuss how our efforts to
understand giant planets can be extended to our understanding the climate of potentially habitable
worlds, particularly those transiting M-dwarfs.

Tiffany Kataria,
Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Exoplanet Discovery and Science