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  • Writer's pictureVedant Parikh

Lab Notes on: Astrobiology

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Anika Ajgaonkar's notes on astrobiology, a field that goes beyond our Earth.

 

For those interested in studying the natural world, Earth’s natural biodiversity provides them with a plethora of opportunities to do so. From vast forests, freezing tundras, and sweltering deserts, filled with floral and fauna of all shapes and sizes, there is no shortage of life on the planet for study and observation. But what about life that exists beyond our realm, should it exist at all? This is where the field of astrobiology comes into play.


People have long pondered the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe, but lacked the means to support their theories one way or the other scientifically. Today’s technology finally enables us to search outside of Earth for potential life, and hopefully find some answers. But the ability to identify signs of life requires knowledge of life processes and environments conducive to helping it flourish, in combination with awareness of planetary and stellar composition, movement, and interaction. In this way, astrobiology integrates skills and techniques from many scientific disciplines, such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, atmospheric science, oceanography, and aeronautical engineering. Astrobiologists must have strong knowledge of these disciplines, supported by skills like the ability to use scientific research equipment, attention to detail, data analysis, collaboration, and communication.


A day in the life of an astrobiologist could entail a variety of things based on the nature of their research. Some potential options include assisting space agencies with missions, using telescopes and similar equipment for observation in space, researching the capability of bacteria to survive in extreme environments, analyzing data, searching for life outside Earth, and of course, writing scholarly articles and sharing discoveries with other scientists.


Like many other careers in STEM, becoming an astrobiologist requires the right education, decent research experience, and networking. Those interested in pursuing astrobiology should attain at least a bachelor’s degree in a focused scientific discipline of one’s choosing. Most aspiring astrobiologists opt for astronomy, though many also choose related fields like biology, chemistry, or physics. After this, most professionals pursue a master’s degree in astrobiology to further their knowledge and provide research opportunities. Astrobiology is the most common graduate program chosen, though areas like cosmology and life in extreme environments are also useful fields. Completing research projects in graduate school is an excellent method to build one’s resume and demonstrate both curiosity and accomplishment in the field (all while having access to highly specialized equipment most students would not own themselves!). Becoming acquainted with other astrobiology professionals and scientists through networking is a vital part of this career, as experts in this field often need to collaborate to make discoveries. Most astrobiologists spend their days in environments of any kind that can support research, like laboratories, government agencies, and private research organizations.


Astrobiology is a field expected to grow rapidly over the next 10 years. For those interested, it could be a great way to discover the potential for life in our universe with the power of science and research!

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