19 December 2018, Wednesday, 7:45 PM, Randall Museum Theater
“Should We be Searching for Life as We Know It?”
Dr. Lynn Rothschild, Senior Research Scientist, NASA Ames
How can we design a strategy for the search for life elsewhere – or to understand what the future will hold for life on Earth and beyond – without extrapolating from pre-biotic chemistry and evolution? The origin and evolution of life often seems an unpredictable oddity, based on the quirks of contingency. Celebrated by the late Stephen Jay Gould in several books, “evolution by contingency” has all the adventure of a thriller, but lacks the predictive power of the physical sciences. Not necessarily so, replied Simon Conway Morris, for convergence reassures us that certain evolutionary responses are replicable. In other words, can we predict an alien life-form?
Dr. Lynn Rothschild is a senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, as well as Adjunct Professor at Brown University. Her research has focused on how life, particularly microbes, has evolved in the context of the physical environment. More recently Rothschild has brought her creativity to the 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 missions, particularly focusing on the human settlement of Mars, astrobiology and such innovative technologies as BioWires and making a biodegradable UAS (drone) and a bioballoon.
Dr. Rothschild has been awarded the Isaac Asimov Award from the American Humanist Association, is recipient of the Horace Mann Award from Brown University, and has been a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) fellow three times.