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Organised by Dr Martin Dominik and Professor John Zarnecki
Astronomers are now able to detect planets orbiting stars other than the Sun where life may exist, and living generations could see the signatures of extra-terrestrial life being detected. Should it turn out that we are not alone in the Universe, it will fundamentally affect how humanity understands itself - and we need to be prepared for the consequences.
Audio recordings of the meeting are available below.
The proceedings of this meeting are published in a dedicated issue of Philosophical Transactions A.
Dr Martin Dominik, University of St Andrews, UK Organiser
Martin Dominik is a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the School of Physics & Astronomy of the University of St Andrews. He completed his doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) at the University of Dortmund (Germany) in 1996, where he was dragged from theoretical physics into astronomy with new developments in the emerging field of 'gravitational lensing', i.e. the gravitational bending of light. Martin subsequently worked at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore (MD, U.S.A), supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG), and as Marie Curie Fellow at the Kapteyn Institute of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (The Netherlands). A serious medical condition encountered in 2000 meant that he had to start re-building his career with the move to St Andrews in 2003. Since 1993, Martin's research has focused on applications of the gravitational microlensing effect, and in particular on its potential for studying planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. His work as a team co-leader was essential for detecting OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, which, with estimated 5 Earth masses, was considered to be the least massive extra-solar planet orbiting a star known at the time of the announcement of this discovery, and provided the first observational hint that Earth-like planets are common in the Universe. Martin is a strong advocate of communication being an essential part of science, and science being an integral part of society. He turned the hunt for planets by gravitational microlensing into a public live event, and most prominently showcased this at the 2008 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, where he engaged with visitors in debates about the detection of extra-terrestrial life and the role of humankind in the Universe.
Professor John Zarnecki, Open University, UKOrganiser
I joined the Open University in 2000 from the University of Kent. I have over 30 years experience of space research spanning a number of space missions, including sounding rockets, Earth-orbiting missions and interplanetary flights. I am a member of the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute (PSSRI), which itself is a part of the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space & Astronomical Research (CEPSAR) of which I am the Director.
Professor Baruch S Blumberg, Fox Chase Cancer Center, USAAstrobiology, space, and a future age of discovery
Baruch S. Blumberg is Distinguished Scientist, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA and Prof. of Medicine and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. He was the Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) (1999 – 2002), Senior Advisor to the Administrator of NASA (2001 – 2002), Principal Scientist in Fundamental Space Biology (2003-2004). and Master of Balliol College (1989 – 1994). He earned an M.D. degree from Columbia University, (1951), and D. Phil in Biochemistry from Oxford University (1957). He is currently a distinguished Scientist with the NASA Lunar Science Institute and the NAI.
He was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize for "discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases" and specifically, for the discovery of the Hepatitis B virus and invention of the .hepatitis B vaccine. He is the President of the American Philosophical Society.
Professor Charles S Cockell, Open University, UKLife in the lithosphere and the prospects for life elsewhere
Charles Cockell is a geomicrobiologist/astrobiologist at the Open University. His academic interests encompass microbe-mineral interactions and their implications for earth system processes and the habitability of extraterrestrial environments, and microbiology in the space environment. He received his first degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Bristol and his PhD (DPhil) from the University of Oxford in molecular biology. He then undertook a National Research Council Associateship at the NASA Ames Research Centre in California before working at the British Antarctic Survey. He sits on ESA’s Planetary Protection and Life Sciences Working Groups. He is a Senior Editor of the journal, Astrobiology. Popular science books include ‘Impossible Extinction’ (CUP), which explores the tenacity of microbes on the Earth, and ‘Space on Earth’ (MacMillan) which looks at the synergistic links between environmentalism and space exploration. He is Chair of the Earth and Space Foundation, a non-profit organisation he established in 1994.
Professor Pascale Ehrenfreund, The George Washington University, USA, and Leiden University, The NetherlandsThe evolution of organic matter in space
Professor Pascale Ehrenfreund is currently a Research Professor at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs. Over the past decade, she has been Professor at Nijmegen, Leiden, and Amsterdam Universities in the Netherlands. Since her PhD at University Paris VII in 1990 she investigated organic matter in the interstellar medium and in solar system bodies, including planetary surfaces, comets, and meteorites. She served as Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator on many NASA/ESA space missions, including satellites, planetary probes, and experiments on the International Space Station. She has served on many ESA and NASA committees in the last decade. Dr. Ehrenfreund holds a masters degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Vienna, a doctorate in Astrophysics from the University of Paris VII/ University of Vienna (Austria), a habilitation in Astrochemistry from the University of Vienna and a masters degree in Management & Leadership from Webster University in Leiden (The Netherlands).
Professor Simon Conway Morris FRS, University of Cambridge, UK Predicting what extra-terrestrial life will be like… and preparing for the worst
Simon Conway Morris holds the chair in Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the University of Cambridge, and is also a Fellow of St. John’s College. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1990, and is the recipient of various awards and honours, including a honorary DSc from the University of Hull. He has published extensively on the Cambrian explosion, summarized in The Crucible of Creation (Oxford), and on evolutionary convergence, as documented in Life’s Solution (Cambridge). He is also actively involved in both the public understanding of science and the science/religion debates.
Professor Michel Mayor, Geneva University, SwitzerlandExtra-solar planets: the quest for Earth twins
Michel Mayor, born in Switzerland, is an emeritus professor of Astronomy at Geneva University. He is co-discoverer in 1995, with Didier Queloz, of the first extrasolar planet orbiting a sun-like star, 51 Pegasi, and has discovered more than 150 additional planets and planetary systems. Among his team's recent discoveries is a low mass exoplanet that appears to be located in the so-called “habitable zone".
After studying Physics at Lausanne University, Mayor obtained his Phd in Astronomy (1971) at Geneva University. His research interests include galactic structure and evolution, globular cluster dynamics, stellar duplicity, stellar rotation, and extrasolar planets.
From 1998 to 2004, he was Director of the Geneva Observatory. M.Mayor is Principal Investigator on the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planetary Search (HARPS) spectrograph project, which, since 2003, has conducted radial velocity searches for extrasolar planets at the European Southern Observatory’s 3.60 meter telescope at La Silla, Chile.
Among his awards and recognitions, mention must be made of the Balzan Prize (2000), the Einstein Medal (2004) and the Shaw Prize for Astronomy (2005). M.Mayor is a foreign associate of the French Academy of Sciences and honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Dr Malcolm Fridlund, European Space Agency (ESA), Astrophysics Mission Division, The Netherlands Extraterrestrial life in ESA's cosmic vision and beyond
Malcolm Fridlund is a Swedish Astronomer who has worked for the European Space Agency in the Netherlands for the last 20 years. He has been the study scientist of the the Darwin mission and is currently ESA's project scientist for the CoRoT mission searching for terrestrial exoplanets.
Professor Viscount Christian de Duve ForMemRS, Christian de Duve Institute of Cellular Pathology, BelgiumLife as a cosmic imperative?
Born in England in 1917 and educated in Belgium, Christian de Duve holds medical and chemical degrees from the Catholic University of Louvain. He is emeritus professor at his Belgian alma mater (1947-1985) and at the Rockefeller University in New York (1962-1988), and founder-administrator of the former International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology (ICP), now known as the de Duve Institute, a biomedical research center he created in Brussels in 1974 and headed till 1991. Known for the discovery of lysosomes and peroxisomes, de Duve has become interested more recently in the origin and evolution of life. He is the author of several books on the subject. His honors include foreign membership in the Royal Society (1988) and the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Dr Paul Davies, Arizona State University, USA Searching for a shadow biosphere on Earth as a test of the 'cosmic imperative'
Paul Davies is a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling author. He is Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, at Arizona State University. His research focuses on the “big questions” of existence, ranging from the origin of the universe to the origin of life and the nature of time. He helped create the theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime, which provided explanations for how black holes can radiate energy, and what caused the ripples in the cosmic afterglow of the big bang. He was a forerunner of the theory that life on Earth may have come from Mars, and is currently championing the proposal to seek a “shadow biosphere” on Earth as evidence for multiple origins of life. Davies is known as a passionate science communicator. His popular books are noted for presenting complex ideas in accessible terms, and include The Mind of God, About Time, How to Build a Time Machine, The Origin of Life and The Goldilocks Enigma. His latest book, The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe? celebrates the 50th anniversary of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), and will be published in March. Paul Davies is a Member of the Order of Australia and a recipient of the Templeton Prize, the Kelvin Medal, and the Michael Faraday Prize from The Royal Society. The asteroid 1992 OG was officially named (6870) Pauldavies in recognition of his work on cosmic impacts.
Dr Frank Drake, SETI Institute, USAThe search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI)
Frank Drake conducted the first organized search for ETI signals in 1960, two years after completing his PhD in astronomy at Harvard University. In the same year, he also devised the widely-known Drake Equation, giving an estimate of the number of communicative extraterrestrial civilizations that we might find in our galaxy. He is well known for constructing the Arecibo Message of 1974 – the first interstellar message transmitted via radio waves from our planet for the benefit of any extraterrestrial civilization. He has served in several roles at the SETI Institute in California since 1984, and is currently Director at the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. During this time he has also held several positions at University of California, Santa Cruz , where he is now Professor Emeritus of Astronomy & Astrophysics. Dr Drake is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. He is the author of over 150 articles and books; and speaker and invited lecturer at numerous functions and symposia.
Professor Ted Peters, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, USAThe implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life for religion and theology
Ted Peters is Professor of Systematic Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, USA. He co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, published by Routledge for the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. He is author of Science, Theology and Ethics (Ashgate 2003); The Evolution of Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Life (Pandora 2008); and Anticipating Omega (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2008). He is co-author of Theological and Scientific Commentary on Darwin’s Origin of Species (Abingdon 2009).
Professor Albert A Harrison, University of California, Davis, USAFear, pandemonium, equanimity, and delight: human responses to extraterrestrial life
After receiving his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan in 1967, Dr. Harrison joined the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He has a long standing interest in the cultural or societal aspects of astrobiology and SETI, and his books include Living Aloft: Human Requirements for Extended Spaceflight (1985), From Antarctica to Outer Space: Life in Isolation and Confinement (1991), After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life (1997), Spacefaring: The Human Dimension (2001), Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science Religion and Folklore (2007) and Cultures in the Cosmos (forthcoming).Dr. Harrison has served on NASA’s Space Human Factors Element Science and Technology Working Group and several study groups of the International Academy of Astronautics pertaining to SETI, space architecture, and the protection of Earth from asteroids and comets.
Dr Kathryn Denning, York University (Toronto), CanadaIs life what we make of it?
Dr Kathryn Denning is an anthropologist and archaeologist at York University, Canada, in the departments of Anthropology, and Science & Technology Studies. Her published SETI-related research includes explorations of: scientists' conceptions of ETI, and how these are influenced by culture, history, and by the technology used in SETI; theories of interstellar message construction; debates about ‘active SETI’ transmissions from Earth; and, what civilizations on Earth tell us about the Drake factor "L". Her current work includes a NASA-funded project investigating the evolution of intelligence, and a database concerning the social implications of astrobiology and SETI, being developed in collaboration with the BEYOND Institute and the SETI Institute. She is an active member of the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Study Group and its Post-Detection subcommittee, and has presented SETI-related papers at meetings of the American Anthropological Association, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the International Astronautical Congress, and Bioastronomy and AbSciCon.
Professor Iván Almár, Konkoly Observatory of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, HungaryDiscovery of extraterrestrial life: assessment by scales of its importance and associated risks
Iván Almár, DSc, is professor emeritus of astronomy at Konkoly Observatory of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, Budapest, Hungary. He is Honorary President of the Hungarian Astronautical Society. He worked in space research for more than 50 years on satellite tracking, upper-atmospheric research, and satellite geodesy. Member of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) since 1984, and was chairman of its Space and Society Commission in 2003-2005. He was vice president of the International Astronautical Federation in 1982-1984. As guest editor of the IAA Multilingual Space Dictionary he has received the IAA Book Award in 2001. Member of the IAA SETI Committee since 1983, and was its co-chairman between 1986 and 2001. In 2008 he presented the Billingham Cutting-Edge Lecture at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, and has received the Giordano Bruno Memorial Award of the SETI League.
Dr Mazlan Othman, UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Austria
Public lecture 5 Dec
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