2019 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.

Organizing Committee

Micah Schaible (Chemistry and Biochemistry, Postdoctoral Fellow)
George Dragos Zaharescu (Earth and Environmental Sciences, Postdoctoral Fellow)
Peter Colin (Biological Sciences, Postdoctoral Fellow)
Tyler Roche (Chemistry and Biochemistry, Graduate Student)
Zijian Li (Earth and Environmental Sciences, Graduate Student)
Pengxiao Xu ( Earth and Environmental Sciences, Graduate Student)

Faculty Advisors

Martha Grover (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)