Summer school
"Biosignatures and the Search for Life on Mars "
Iceland, 4 - 16 July 2016


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Course organisers
The summer school will be organised by Wolf D. Geppert and David Cullen (Cranfield University, UK) and in co-operation with the University of Akureyri and the other scientists involved in the Nordic Network of Astrobiology, the European Union COST Action "Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth and in the Universe" and the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership "European Astrobiology Campus".

The following lecturers will give presentations at the summer school (please check the Programme webpage for a preliminary schedule):


Prof. David Cullen, Cranfield University,UK

In recent years, the main focus of Professor Cullen's research has been the design and application of biosensors, bio-diagnostics and related bioanalytical technologies in the field of astrobiology and life in extreme environments - especially for in-situ life detec-tion and characterisation associated with planetary exploration (e.g. Mars), subglacial environments on Earth and more recently the Earth?s stratosphere. Examples of recent and current activities in this area are:
  • Joint lead-proposer of the Life Marker Chip (LMC) experiment for evidence of life detection on.
  • Application and development of suites of in-situ life detection and characterisation techniques to subglacial environments.
  • Use of stratospheric balloon platforms to study life in the upper atmosphere
  • On-going development of the Hypervelocity Artificial Meteoroid Experiment (HAME) mission concept that proposes to enter 500kg of artificial meteoroid material into the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Studies to confirm the survivability of immunoassay reagents in simulated and real space environments, latterly as scientific lead for the LMC experiment
  • Technology transfer of bioanalytical activities from extreme environment applications to those in medical, environmental, security and defence applica-tions.

Dr. David Des Marais, NASA Ames Research Centre,USA

Dr. David Des Marais is a senior space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. He has investigated the geochemistry of lunar samples, meteorites and both volcanic and ancient sedimentary rocks from Earth. He coordinated a long-term study of benthic cyanobacterial microbial ecosystems. David is Principal Investigator of the Ames Research Center Team of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. He is currently a member of the science teams of NASA's 2003 Mars Exploration Rover mission, the 2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory mission and the 2016 ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter mission. He has published more than 160 technical articles and chapters on these topics. David is Chair of NASA's Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group.


Dr. J. Lee Grenfell
, German Aerospace Centre, Berlin, Germany
Dr. John Lee Grenfell is a researcher at the Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (ZAA) at the Berlin Institute of Technology (TUB), Germany. He obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge, England in 1996 and has held positions at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and at the Free University of Berlin (FUB), Germany. Dr. Grenfell's scientific interests include numerical modeling of photochemical and spectral responses of atmospheric bio-indicators (i.e., chemical species which could indicate the presence of life) in exoplanetary Earth-like atmospheres.


Dr. Ernst Hauber, German Aerospace Centre, Berlin

Ernst Hauber is a planetary geologist studying the solid surfaces of terrestrial planets. His research is focused on endogenic processes (volcanism, tectonism) and on sedimentary, glacial and periglacial landforms, including field work on terrestrial analogues. He is Co-Investigator of the HRSC (High Resolution Stereo Camera) camera experiment on Mars Express, leads the HRSC Geoscientific Working Group, and participates in HRSC operations planning since 2004. Ernst Hauber is a member of the ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group, the iMARS Team (International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples), and served as a member of the ESA/NASA Joint Science Working Group (JSWG) on the 2018 Joint Rover Mission. He is also a member of ESA's Planetary Protection Working Group, and of a joint ESF-NRC Study Group "Mars Special Regions". He has published more than 90 peer-reviewed papers and has received an ESA award for his involvement in the Mars Express mission.

Prof. James W. Head III., Brown University, Rhode Island, USA

Professor Head studies themes of planetary evolution and the role of volcanism and tectonism in the formation and evolution of planetary crusts. Several research projects are underway in the field in Antarctica, on the Earth's seafloor, and in assessing data from planetary surfaces to study climate change on Mars, volcanism on the Moon, Mars and Venus, the geology of the surface of Mercury and the tectonic and volcanic evolution of icy satellites.

Prof. Head earned a B.S. from Washington and Lee University in 1964 and his Ph.D. from Brown University in 1969. During 4 years with Bellcomm, Inc. in Washington, DC in the NASA Systems Analysis Branch, his research focus shifted to planetary geology studies relating to the Apollo Lunar Exploration Program including training of Apollo astronauts. Following a position as Interim Director of the Houston Lunar Science Institute, he joined the Brown Department of Geological Sciences as assistant professor (research) in 1973, then was promoted to full professor in 1980, named to the James Manning Chair in 1990, and in 1995 was named to the Louis and Elizabeth Scherck Professorship in Geological Sciences.

Prof. Javier Martín-Torres
Javier Martín-Torres is Professor in Atmospheric Science at the Luleå University of Technology in Kiruna, Sweden. He is interested in Mars Research and Exploration, and has authored/co-authored articles on the first detections on Mars of transient liquid water (brines), methane, nitrogen, and organics, after Curiosity rover data; and he is currently PI of the HABIT (HabitAbility: Brines, Irradiation, and Temperature) instrument to be part of the ExoMars 2018 mission. He is being co-I of several NASA space missions, and is currently co-I of the Mars Science Laboratory (NASA), Atmospheric Chemistry Suite/Trace Gas Orbiter (ESA/Roscosmos), and the Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMArs/ExoMars Rover (ESA/Roscosmos). He has developed and validated radiative transfer algorithms for Earth observation missions from space and is the author of the radiative transfer code FUTBOLIN (FUll Transfer By Optimized LINe by line), which has been adapted to the modelling of the atmosphere of the Earth as well as other planets. He has worked for the Institut für Meteorologie und Klimaforschung and Universität Karlsruhe, Germany (ESA External Fellowship); AS&M, Inc. at NASA/Langley Research Center, Hampton, USA; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, USA; Lunar and Planetary Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA; California Institute of Technology (CalTech), Pasadena, USA, and Spanish Research. Council. Prof. Martín-Torres has received several awards as a member of the MSL team (NASA Group Achievement Award between others), as well as other international distinctions such as the award of Honorary Fellow status at the School of Physics and Astronomy, College of Science and Engineering of the University of Edinburgh, the NASA Achievement Award as part of the Space Shuttle Columbia Investigation Team, the NASA/Langley Group Achievement award as part of the SABER experiment Team, and the NASA/Langley Award for Outstanding contributions to Space Shuttle Columbia Investigation Team. He is been co-I of several projects at the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) as part of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, and between 2010 and 2013 he was the Chair of the Thermodynamics, Disequilibrium and Evolution Focus Group at NAI. Details about the activity of the Atmospheric Science Group in Kiruna can be found here.

Dr.Sean McMahon, Yale University, USA

I am a geologist and geomicrobiologist interested in palaeo- and astrobiology. My current work explores microbiological and other aspects of Proterozoic taphonomy. Other long-term interests include the origin and early evolution of life; the deep subsurface biosphere; and (bio)geochemical scenarios for methane production on Mars. I am a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Astrobiology. More information on my website.

Dr. Björn Oddsson, University of Iceland

Björn Oddsson is a coordinator for research and risk management for the Civil Protection Authorities in Iceland. He is experienced in monitoring and research work at active volcanoes and glaciers in Iceland. He is responsible for coordinating the work of scientist, responders and decision takers during and prior to natural hazards. During the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull 2010 and Grimsvötn 2011 he was an advisor to the Civil Protection Authorities, but in 2012 he received a full position at DCPEM. In the eruption at Barðarbunga 2014-2015 his role was mainly to compile scientific data and disseminate to the Government, stake holders and actors for important infrastructures. Björn is a member of several working groups of the European Civil Protection Mechanism, focusing on risk management, preparation and risk mitigation.


Dr. Inge Loes ten Kate, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

After graduating, I went to Delft University of Technology to get my Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering, with a thesis on "aerocapture manoeuvres around Mars". As much as I enjoyed these studies, I realized that, now I knew how to get to Mars, I was much more interested in what is actually happening on the surface of Mars.

That's why I moved to Leiden University to start my PhD with Pascale Ehrenfreund at the Leiden Observatory (Astronomy Department). The main focus of my thesis was on the destruction of amino acids on the Martian surface. During this study I developed several experimental simulation facilities together with my colleagues.

During the course of my graduate work I got more and more interested in the development of in situ instrumentation, especially organic detection instruments, because studying organic processes is much more satifying if you can actually go out and look for them on Mars.

After defending my thesis I got the opportunity to work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the SAM (Sample Anaysis at Mars) team, with Paul Mahaffy. There I got involved in the contamination control work for SAM and joined the team that is currently developing VAPoR, a pyrolysis mass spectrometer (a simplefied version of SAM) for deployment on future lunar and asteroid missions.

With 4.5 years of expertise in the field of instrument development, I realized that organics on Mars need much more study than has been done so far, especially in the light of upcoming and future missions that will look for organics as possible biomarkers.

Dr. Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson, Icelandic Meteorological Office, Iceland

Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson is a glaciologist working at the Icelandic Meteorological Office. He also teaches part-time at the University of Iceland. Þorsteinn did his PhD-work on ice textures and fabrics at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, and he has participated in several deep ice coring projects in Greenland and Antarctica. Since 2000 he has mainly focused on various glaciological research and monitoring programs in Iceland, including studies of subglacial lakes beneath the Vatnajökull ice cap. He has lead the local organizing of several astrobiology-related events in Iceland, including the 2nd Mars Polar Conference in Iceland in 2000, the Bioastronomy 2004: Habitable Worlds conference and the NASA-Nordic Summer School in 2009./SPAN>

Dr. Marc van Zuilen, Institute de Physique du Globe de Paris, France
My research focuses on the geological, geochemical and biological processes that shaped the Precambrian Earth. This includes studies on the early Earth�s atmosphere, global changes that took place during the Archean-Proterozoic transition period, and the evolution of early microbial life. I use in situ nano-scale and micron-scale analytical techniques to perform structural, chemical, and isotopic characterization of minerals, fluid inclusions, and carbonaceous materials in stromatolites, hydrothermal deposits, and chemical sediments such as banded iron formations. More information is availablre at this weblink.

Dr. Wolf Geppert, Stockholm University, Sweden

Wolf D. Geppert received his Ph. D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of York in 2000. Since then he has been working in the field of astrochemistry - mostly with experiments to investigate barrier-less reactions of importance for the synthesis of molecules in the interstellar medium and planetary ionospheres. After post-doctoral positions in Bordeaux, Helsinki and Stockholm he was promoted to Full Professor at Stockholm University in 2014. His work mainly concerns studying the formation of complex molecules in space through ion induced processes using experimental, observational and computational methods. Wolf Geppert is Coordinator of the Nordic Astrobiology Network of and Director of the Stockholm University Astrobiology Centre. He is also Vice Chair of the European Union COST Action "Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth and in the Universe" and the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership "European Astrobiology Campus". He also functions as also Handling Editor of the new journal "Molecular Astropysics".