JAMES KASTING, Chair, is a Distinguished Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. He is well known as a world leader in the field of planetary habitability for his efforts to define the liquid water habitable zone around stars using one-dimensional, globally averaged climate models. His research focuses on atmospheric evolution, planetary atmospheres, and paleoclimates. He has published three books and more than 140 research papers and is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geochemical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Science, and the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life (ISSOL). He was awarded the LExEN Award for his work “Collaborative Research: Methanogenesis and the Climate of Early Mars” and in 2008 received the Oparin Medal from ISSOL for “significant career contributions to the origin of life field.”
WILLIAM BAINS is a visiting scientist researching astrobiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as an entrepreneur and teacher in the life sciences. His work touches several fields: regenerative medicine, astrobiology, business, and entrepreneurship. He is currently working with Sara Seager at MIT on what life could look like on planets with hydrogen atmospheres. In 1999 he founded Amedis Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (which was later acquired by Paradigm Therapeutics), and has since founded four other biotech companies and helped create over 10 others, as well as sitting on the advisory boards of the SULIS Fund, Iceni Fund, and Bath Ventures. Dr. Bains also runs Rufus Scientific, helping entrepreneurs, universities, and start-ups identify how to generate value from visionary science and technology.
TANJA BOSAK is an associate professor of geobiology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. Her research is concerned with microbial fossils that reveal the parallel evolution of life and the environment. Her laboratory, which is part of the MIT NASA Astrobiology Team, Foundations of Complex Life, seeks to develop a quantitative understanding of the various morphological and geochemical biosignatures found in sedimentary rocks, in addition to studying the microfossil record associated with certain major climatic and geochemical oscillations in the Neoproterozoic Era. Her Ph.D. research investigated the role of microbial processes in the formation of laminated limestone rocks that were common for the first 80 percent of Earth’s history. That work won her the 2007 Subaru Outstanding Woman in Science Award, which is presented to a woman whose Ph.D. research has impacted the field of the geosciences in a major way. Dr. Bosak spent 2 years as a microbial
sciences initiative fellow at Harvard University before she joined the faculty at MIT in 2007. She is an investigator on the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life and was awarded the James B. Macelwane Medal by the AGU, of which she is a fellow.
KEVIN P. HAND is the deputy chief scientist of the Solar System Exploration Directorate at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where he helps guide JPL’s future for the robotic exploration of the solar system. He is also the founder of Cosmos Education and was its president until 2007. Dr. Hand studied psychology and physics as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. He then went on to earn a master’s degree at Stanford University in mechanical engineering while also working as a public policy research associate at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. Dr. Hand later completed his Ph.D. in geological and environmental sciences, also at Stanford. While a Ph.D. student, he was chosen by James Cameron to take marine biology samples from hydrothermal vents in subsea expeditions to the mid-Atlantic ridge and East Pacific Rise and was a featured scientist in Cameron’s 2005 IMAX documentary “Aliens of the Deep.” Dr. Hand is a recipient of the national Geographic Society Emerging Explorer Award and the Lew Allen Award for Excellence.
VICTORIA MEADOWS is a professor with the astronomy department and director of the Astrobiology Program at the University of Washington. She is also the principal investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s (NAI’s) Virtual Planetary Laboratory Lead Team. Dr. Meadows’ primary research interests are in using modeling and observations to determine how to recognize whether a distant extrasolar planet is able to harbor life. Her NAI Virtual Planetary Laboratory team develops innovative computer models that can be used to understand the terrestrial planet formation process, test planetary dynamical stability and orbital evolution, and simulate the environment and spectra of present day and early Earth, other solar system planets, and plausible extrasolar terrestrial environments. In addition to her astrobiology research, Dr. Meadows remains a planetary astronomer, and her research interests also encompass remote-sensing observations and radiative transfer modeling of the lower atmosphere and clouds of Venus, the variable Earth, spectra of Titan and Neptune’s atmospheres, and the impacts of Comet SL-9 with Jupiter.
PHILIP M. NECHES is the founder of Teradata Corporation and is a lead mentor and venture partner at Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator in New York City. He is chairman of Foundation Ventures, LLC, an investment bank serving information technology and life science companies. Previously, Dr. Neches was vice president and chief technology officer of AT&T’s Multimedia Products and Services Group and senior vice president and chief scientist at NCR. He is a director of Evolving Systems, Inc. and a trustee of the California Institute of Technology, where he earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in computer science.
NILTON O. RENNO is a professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan. He is also chair of the department’s master’s programs and director of the master of engineering program in space engineering. Dr. Renno’s research interests include aerosols and climate, astrobiology, instrument development, planetary science, systems engineering, and thermodynamics. He studies the physical processes that control the climate of Earth and other planets, and works on the design and fabrication of instruments for this purpose. Previously, Dr. Renno was a tenured associate professor in the Department of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona. He has received the Space Foundation John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. Award for Space Exploration, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation’s Award for Excellence, and the National Aeronautic Associations 2012 Robert J. Collier Trophy for his work on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Team and the Curiosity Rover Mission, as well as several NASA Group Achievement Awards.
GARY RUVKUN is a molecular biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. He discovered the mechanism by which lin-4 (the first microRNA) regulates the translation of target messenger RNAs via imperfect base-pairing to those targets, and discovered the second miRNA, let-7, and that it is conserved across animal phylogeny, including in humans. These miRNA discoveries revealed a new world of RNA regulation at an unprecedented small size scale, and the mechanism of that regulation. Dr. Ruvkun also discovered many features of insulin-like signaling in the regulation of aging and metabolism. The Ruvkun
laboratory has started work with the Church Laboratory and engineers at MJ Research and the MIT Center for Space Research to develop a miniature thermal cycler and protocols to send to Mars in search of microbial life. Dr. Ruvkun has received numerous awards for his contributions to medical science, particularly his study of microRNAs. He is a recipient of the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Gairdner Foundation International Award, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science. In 2008, Dr. Ruvkun was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
NITA SAHAI is an Ohio Research Scholar Professor in the Department of Polymer Science at the University of Akron. Her research interests include biomolecular and cellular interactions with biomaterials and minerals, interfacial chemistry, the origins and early evolution of life, and the relationship between molecular-level, nanoscale, and macroscopic properties. Her research group is working determine the potential role of mineral surfaces in the evolution of cell surfaces. Previously, Dr. Sahai was a professor of geochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she received the Romnes Faculty Fellowship. She has served as an editor on a number of publications, including Medical Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry Series, American Mineralogist, and Geochemical Transactions. She is an investigator on the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life, a recipient of the NSF CAREER award, a fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, as well as the latter Society’s Distinguished Lecturer for 2013-2014.
DIMITAR SASSELOV is a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and the founding director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, an interdisciplinary institute that joins biologists, chemists, and astronomers in searching for the starting points of life on Earth. A co-investigator for Kepler, in 2002, Dr. Sasselov and his team sighted OGLE-TR-56b, a planet in the constellation Sagittarius that was the farthest planet from the Earth discovered until then (1500 pc away). His research interests include both exoplanets and the interaction between radiation and matter. He also studies how planetary conditions may act as the seedbed of life, and how knowing the composition and conditions of a planet could teach us how life might form there. Dr. Sasselov is the author of the book The Life of Super-Earths: How the Hunt for Alien Worlds and Artificial Cells Will Revolutionize Life on Our Planet.
MARK H. THIEMENS is the dean of physical sciences, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Chancellor’s Associates Chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego. His research is centered on use of the mass-independent fractionation process for stable isotopes to study the origin and evolution of the solar system from meteorite analysis, definition of the source and transformation of greenhouse gases in the troposphere, chemistry of the stratosphere and mesosphere, chemistry of the ancient martian atmosphere, and the origin and evolution of oxygen-ozone and life in the Earth’s Precambrian. His climate work has included field work at the South Pole, Greenland summit, Mt. Everest, and the rainforests of South America. His work also includes studies of the origin and evolution of life on Earth, especially the oxygen evolution, and includes field sampling in China. Dr. Thiemens is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been recognized with the E.O. Lawrence Medal from the Department of Energy, the Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society, and several honorary professorships.
MARGARET TURNBULL is an astrobiologist at the SETI Institute. Her research expertise is in identifying planetary systems that are capable of supporting life as we know it. She is currently principal investigator for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) exoplanet imaging coronagraph, and for a WFIRST Preparatory Science Team on habitable exoplanet colors and spectral signatures, in addition to chairing the WFIRST Coronagraph Target Selection Working Group. She also serves on the Hab-Ex Science and Technology Definition team to define a flagship scale space telescope plus starshade mission to find habitable worlds amongst the Sun’s nearest neighbors. Previously, Dr. Turnbull developed a Catalog of Habitable Stellar Systems with Jill Tarter (called HabCat) for use in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and she has studied the spectrum of the Earth to identify telltale signatures of life. She is a member of NASA’s Exoplanet Planning and Analysis (ExoPAG) Executive Committee, a co-investigator on the Arizona State University’s “Exoplanetary Ecosystems” NExSS team, and a co-author of NASA’s probe-scale Exo-S telescope plus starshade concept study.
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