University of Turku organises a curriculum minor on Astrobiology (15
study weeks). Currently 8 different courses are taught in Astrobiology
(see under point 15 for details). Ten graduate students study
astrobiology or perform research in related areas at University of Turku.
Furthermore, the group is also participating in the multi-institute
International AstroBiology Course Network for European collaboration
in education. In this network, the team was on the forefront in
organising the ESA-sponsored real-time web course on astrobiology in
Information about ongoing courses can be found here.
Astrobiology has been promoted at the University of Turku now for about
ten years. The first basic course in astrobiology was offered here in 2001,
and has been re-offered continuously every second year. The course is
taught by teachers of astronomy (Prof. Harry Lehto), and biology
(Dr. Kirsi Lehto), and each time it has been very popular among the
students (50 - 80 students take it each time). University of Turku has
also participated now three times (2005, 2007-2008, 2009-2010) in the
Astrobiology Course Network (ABC-net) lecture series, real time web-cast
through ESA to eleven European sites. The course is coordinated by
Prof. G. Horneck. In addition, a lecture course on the "Origin of Life"
is offered every second year. Combining these courses with independent
literature studies and other astrobiology-related courses, meetings and
workshops, students can complete a minor curriculum degree (total of 25
ECTS points) in astrobiology.
During the last year, a large joint effort is taken between the departments of geology, physics and astronomy, biochemistry and food chemistry and biology, and also joined by the university public relations office, as well as the cities of Turku and Kaarina, to construct a 13.7 km long "time trek" path to portray the history of the Universe, Earth and the biosphere. This has been opened to the public in May 2011. Several astrobiology-related thematic events will be offered to the local schools along this path once it is open.
Astrobiology related research activities include e.g. participation in the international COSIMA satellite programme, to analyse the molecular spectrum ejected from the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet via mass-spectrometric analysis. Several members of the Tuorla observatory are involved in programmes for search of extra-terrestrial planets. At the department of biochemistry and food chemistry people are testing the use of various cyanobacterial species as components of the biological life support systems, and particularly, testing the suitable culture conditions of the edible Arthrospira species. University of Turku staff also participate in the GESSE working group of ESA (Geomicrobiology in Space Settlement and Exploration, coordinated by Charles Cockell), where we test the suitability of plain (Martian regolith-like) basalt as a growth substrate for cyanobacteria. Joining with the other Finnish locations (Jaana Bamford, Matti Jalasjärvi, University of Jyväskylä), we have a strong interest for modelling the origin and evolution of the early biosphere with virological models. In these projects we would like to seek collaborations with scientists of present NAI nodes at the NASA's Johnson Space Centre (JSC), the Ames Research Centre (ARC), Moffett Field, California, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and the Montana State University.