COMMON LANGUAGE

The committee recommends a number of approaches for overcoming communication barriers:

  • Continue and expand cross-disciplinary discussions on the origin and evolution of life on Earth and elsewhere, as are already being promoted by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).

  • Continue intellectual exchange through interdisciplinary meetings, focus groups, a speaker program, and workshops, all targeted at integrating astronomy and astrophysics with other astrobiology subdisciplines and identifying additional possibilities for astrophysical research.

  • Promote a professional society (and cross-disciplinary branches within existing societies) that will cover the full range of disciplines that make up astrobiology, from astronomy to geosciences to biology. The International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life, which holds triennial meetings, may provide an appropriate basis for this. The BioAstronomy conferences sponsored by the International Astronomical Union,1 the astrobiology conferences held at NASA-Ames Research Center, and the Gordon Research Conferences on the Origin of Life are useful but do not fulfill the needed roles of a professional society.

  • Broaden the definition of outreach activities within the NAI beyond general public awareness and K-12 education to achieve the greater degree of cross-fertilization that is needed among NAI senior researchers, postdoctoral fellows, and students.

  • Reach out to university faculty in general, not just to NAI members and affiliates. This is essential for astrobiology to be embraced as a discipline and for extending and perpetuating support beyond NAI/NASA, which is otherwise unlikely to happen.

BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION

Education at all levels is a central issue. The challenge of cross- and interdisciplinary training is formidable. The committee urges NASA to take multiple approaches that both invest in the training of the next generation and give the larger scientific community opportunities for interdisciplinary training and collaboration. It calls for NASA astrobiology programs to provide opportunities for individuals or institutions to propose and carry out innovative approaches to interdisciplinary training. The highest priority should be placed on training the next generation of truly interdisciplinary scientists. It is also important to help current researchers who seek to learn about disciplines outside their own. One approach could be to establish specific astrobiology-oriented educational initiatives (programs, degrees, internships) for all levels of scientists. In addition, a distinguished speaker series would allow programs outside the NAI nodes to gain exposure to interdisciplinary endeavors within astrobiology.

The committee advocates four educational approaches to integrating astrophysics with astrobiology and increasing intellectual exchange and collaboration across all disciplines of astrobiology: student research training, a graduate student exchange program, postdoctoral fellowships, and faculty enrichment.

Student Research Training

Preparing scientists to attack interdisciplinary research problems is best accomplished as early in their career as possible. Indeed, students matriculating within established disciplinary programs typically

1  

See <http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/~meech/iau/>. Accessed April 28, 2005.



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