NASA astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild spoke on humanity’s place in the cosmos at the Carl Sagan Institute’s inauguration on May 9:
Biography: Dr. Lynn J. Rothschild is passionate about revealing the meaning of life in its environment on earth or elsewhere in the universe, while at the same time pioneering the use of synthetic biology to enable space exploration. She believes that just as travel abroad permits new insights into our home, so too the search for life elsewhere has allowed a more mature scientific, philosophical and ethical perception of life on Earth. She wears these hats as a senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center as well as Adjunct Professor at Brown University and the University of California Santa Cruz. Her research has focused on how life, particularly microbial, has evolved in the context of the physical environment, both here and potentially elsewhere. She founded and ran the first three Astrobiology Science Conferences (AbSciCon), was the founding co-editor of the International Journal of Astrobiology, and is the former director of the Astrobiology Strategic Analysis and Support Office for NASA. Her current astrobiology research includes examining a protein-based scenario for the origin of life, hunting for the most radiation resistant organisms, and determining signatures for life on extrasolar planets. More recently Rothschild has begun to bring her creativity to the burgeoning field of synthetic biology, articulating a vision for the future of synthetic biology as an enabling technology for NASA’s missions, including human space exploration and astrobiology. Since 2011 she has been the faculty advisor of the award-winning Stanford-Brown iGEM team, which has pioneered the use of synthetic biology to accomplish NASA’s mission, particularly focusing on the human settlement of Mars, astrobiology and such innovative technologies as BioWires. Her lab is working on expanding the use of synthetic biology for NASA with projects as diverse as recreating the first proteins de novo, bioprinting to biomining, and using synthetic biology to precipitate calcite and produce glues in order to make bricks on Mars or the Moon. Her lab will begin to move these plans into space in the form of a synthetic biology secondary payload on a DLR satellite, EuCROPIS, scheduled to launch in March 2017.