Washington, D.C.NASA announced today that the Carnegie Institution is one of ten teams selected for the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) to conduct multidisciplinary research to study the origin and distribution of life in the universe. Carnegie’s George Cody of the Geophysical Laboratory (GL) is the principal investigator for the Carnegie team’s NAI efforts over the next 5 years. Sixteen co-investigators at both the GL and its neighboring Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, as well as additional co-investigators at several partner institutions, will lead various aspects of the research.


The NAI is a partnership between NASA and its NAI teams located in different academic institutions, research laboratories, and NASA centers effectively forming a virtual institute. The research integrates multidisciplinary studies and education in astrobiology--the scientific study of life in the universe including its origin, evolution, and distribution. Some 700 researchers are involved. The first teams were established in 1998 with Carnegie as a founding member.


“Carnegie has made huge progress studying how organic compounds can evolve from prebiotic molecules eventually to synthesize into forms that are basics for life,” said Cody. “Our program is integrating bottom-up and top-down studies to investigate processes related to chemical and physical evolution in prebiotic environments, such as the interstellar medium, circumstellar disks, extrasolar planetary systems, other Solar System objects, and the primitive Earth. This research is central to answering the questions that NAI is asking about life’s origins.”


In addition to studies looking at the steps life took to move from the chemical to biological worlds, Carnegie researchers will perform fieldwork and experiments to understand the nature of microbial life at extreme conditions and characterize organic matter in ancient fossils. Both efforts are central to developing technologies for life detection on other worlds. Carnegie will also continue to serve as a resource center for all members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.


“The Carnegie team has been a major contributor to the research and other work of the NAI since the institute's inception a decade ago,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NAI based at NASA's Ames Research Center. “We look forward to drawing on the experience, knowledge, and commitment of the Carnegie team under George Cody as we move into the NAI's second decade.”


Russell Hemley, director of the Geophysical Laboratory remarked: “The new award will allow GL and DTM to continue to pursue a broad range of problems that constitute modern astrobiology. We are very pleased that NAI has recognized the unique multidisciplinary environment here at Carnegie in its selection of teams in the latest competition.”



The Carnegie Institution for Science (www.CIW.edu) has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.


NASA established the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in 1998 as an innovative way to develop the field of astrobiology and provide a scientific framework for flight missions. NAI was envisioned and implemented as a virtual, distributed organization of competitively selected teams to promote, conduct, and lead integrated astrobiology research guided by the Astrobiology Roadmap. NAI is administered by its director and a small staff, an office known as “NAI Central,” located at NASA Ames Research Center.