On this page you’ll find information about past and upcoming seminars related to astrobiology at Georgia Tech.

September

Explaining the Origin of Life: What’s the Question?

Physics Colloquium
Eric Smith, Professor, Santa Fe institute
September 11, 3:00, Marcus Nanotechnology Building 1116-1118

The attempt to understand how and why Life emerged on Earth has been an approachable scientific question since the 1930s.  However, what we think that question is, and what counts as an answer, have continually changed as our understandings of biology and of planetary and space chemistry have repeatedly been overturned.  In this talk I will review four approaches to the problem of life’s origin, each anchored in a paradigm-changing discovery about nature but also to some extent reflecting traditional viewpoints from different disciplines.  One approach focuses on the molecules of life and how to make them.  A second emphasizes the capacity of Darwinian evolution to shape matter, and the particular role of nucleic acids in carrying the evolutionary process on Earth.  A third emphasizes the intricate embedding of the biosphere within geochemistry and planetary energetics, and interprets the invariance of these relations over geological timescales as evidence of constraints on the possibilities for both living matter and evolution.  The fourth approach, emphasizing the problem of Life’s robustness, is still mostly passed over both in biology and in Origin of Life, but lessons learned in physics about the hierarchy of matter suggest that it is as fundamental as the other three.  From each new point of view, the requirements for an explanation of Life’s emergence have changed.  Regarding them together, we can arrive at a provisional definition of the nature of the living state that is at once commonsense, but surprisingly far-removed from the definitions that were thought to be adequate a century ago.

Metabolic Evolution and the Self-Organization of the Biosphere

Rogier Braakman, Simons Foundation Fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation; Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cohosted by Biology and Earth & Atmospheric Sciences
September 14, 11:00, Engineered Biosystems Building

Metabolism is the biochemical network that supplies the energy and building blocks for all cells on Earth. The collective metabolism of all cells in turn mediates the global biogeochemical cycles, which regulate Earth’s climate. Reconstructing metabolic evolution provides a powerful lens for linking evolutionary dynamics across levels of biological organization and for understanding the chemical co-evolution of Earth and the biosphere. I will illustrate these ideas using globally abundant oceanic phytoplankton and co-occurring bacteria as a model system. I will argue the macroevolution of this system drew down nutrients in the surface oceans, thereby increasing total ecosystem biomass, while also increasing levels of dissolved organic carbon. I will further argue this evolutionary dynamic produced a collective mutualism in oceanic microbial ecosystems that is highly similar to that of organelles within plant cells. Finally I will argue that the evolutionary self-organization of oceanic microbial ecosystems contributed to the oxygenation of Earth, and more generally that the rise of atmospheric oxygen reflects an increasing metabolic rate of the biosphere.

October

Space Science & Innovation Symposium

October 18-19, Georgia Tech Global Learning Center

spacesymposium

“The Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Tech Center for Space Technology & Research are hosting a one-day symposium at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center in Atlanta, GA.  The symposium is planning a combination of technical presentations, panel discussions and guest speakers to highlight recent innovations in space science and technology.”

November

Explaining the Origin of Life: What’s the Question?

Physics Colloquium
Eric Smith, Professor, Santa Fe institute
November 20, 3:00, Marcus Nanotechnology Building 1116-1118

The attempt to understand how and why Life emerged on Earth has been an approachable scientific question since the 1930s.  However, what we think that question is, and what counts as an answer, have continually changed as our understandings of biology and of planetary and space chemistry have repeatedly been overturned.  In this talk I will review four approaches to the problem of life’s origin, each anchored in a paradigm-changing discovery about nature but also to some extent reflecting traditional viewpoints from different disciplines.  One approach focuses on the molecules of life and how to make them.  A second emphasizes the capacity of Darwinian evolution to shape matter, and the particular role of nucleic acids in carrying the evolutionary process on Earth.  A third emphasizes the intricate embedding of the biosphere within geochemistry and planetary energetics, and interprets the invariance of these relations over geological timescales as evidence of constraints on the possibilities for both living matter and evolution.  The fourth approach, emphasizing the problem of Life’s robustness, is still mostly passed over both in biology and in Origin of Life, but lessons learned in physics about the hierarchy of matter suggest that it is as fundamental as the other three.  From each new point of view, the requirements for an explanation of Life’s emergence have changed.  Regarding them together, we can arrive at a provisional definition of the nature of the living state that is at once commonsense, but surprisingly far-removed from the definitions that were thought to be adequate a century ago.

Dr. Robert Hazen
November 29 and 30

“Robert M. Hazen is Senior Staff Scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory and Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University. He received the BS and SM in geology at the MIT, the PhD at Harvard University in Earth science, and was NATO Postdoctoral Fellow at Cambridge University.”

“Hazen’s recent research in part examines roles of minerals in life’s origins, with a focus on mineral-catalyzed organic synthesis and interactions between biomolecules and mineral surfaces. Since 2008 Hazen and his colleagues have explored “mineral evolution” and “mineral ecology”—new approaches that exploit large and growing mineral data resources to explore the co-evolution of the geo- and biospheres.”

https://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365642819/

November 29: Seminar in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, CoC Room 016

November 30: Seminar in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (Time and location TBD)