Astrobiology Winter School
by Bo Reipurth and Karen Meech
The students and faculty of the Astrobiology
Winter School gathered for a picture in the IfA Manoa courtyard.
In June 2003, NASA selected a multidisciplinary group of researchers
at UH as one of 16 teams in the United States to study a new discipline,
astrobiology (see "Na Kilo Hoku" no. 10). From the beginning,
we decided that in addition to research projects, we would also teach the
next generation of researchers in astrobiology.
Astrobiology is a cross-disciplinary field that straddles the boundaries
of stellar astronomy, planetary science, oceanography, meteoritics, biology,
and geobiochemistry, to mention just a few. Each field is highly specialized
with its own literature, jargon, and traditions, which can seem baffling,
if not forbidding, to someone from the outside.
To bridge these disciplines, we decided to hold an astrobiology "winter
school" every other year. We set three goals: The first is to provide
the upcoming generation of researchers the opportunity to learn from the
best of the current senior researchers in the field. Secondly, we want
to give the young people an opportunity to meet and get to know each other.
Personal bonds developed at a young age tend to be strong and long lasting,
and so the schools will, with time, generate ties within the field of astrobiology
that cross national and cultural boundaries. Our third goal is to, by a
judicious choice of topics, break down artificial boundaries between narrow
disciplines, foster cross-fertilization, and instill a deeply rooted understanding
of how the many subdisciplines of astrobiology are all part of one larger
From January 10 to 21, the IfA hosted 39 graduate students and young researchers
from across the United States and from several other countries and from a
wide range of disciplines. Topics during the first week, held at IfA Manoa,
included "Water Ice and Chemistry in Circumstellar Disks and the Interstellar
Medium" and "Geochemical Processes and Micro-biospheres in Hydrothermal
Systems." The second week, held at IfA Hilo, covered "Ice on
Earth, Mars, and Europa" and "Icy Bodies in the Solar System
and the Origin of the Earth's Oceans." The weekend in between
gave the students a chance to swim, tour Volcanoes National Park, and visit
Mauna Kea. After two intense weeks, the students scattered across the globe,
now bonded by their unique Hawaiian experience.