Just like other years, 2004 will be filled with national and international
science meetings.
But few are about a topic so new that seasoned scientists plan to attend as
"stealth" participants and defer to graduate students to set the conference

About 60 graduate students from 30 states and from the Netherlands, Germany,
Croatia, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, and Mexico will attend the Astrobiology
Graduate Conference that convenes at the University of Arizona on Jan. 7 and
runs through Jan. 10.

Astrobiology is the study of how life got its start in the universe and on

"This is a conference organized by and for graduate students for the study
of life in the universe," said Margaret C. Turnbull, conference organizer
and a doctoral candidate in UA’s astronomy department. "It will be the very
first meeting of ‘first-generation’ astrobiologists." The students will
discuss the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and
in the universe.

Astrobiology has been around since the 1920s, but has had long periods of
dormancy and only resurfaced within the past decade as a major topic in
science. In academic circles, that’s very recent indeed, and the first
dispatches from the leading edge of this discipline are just arriving in the
scientific community now.

Astrobiology started in the ’20s when Russian and British scholars published
articles that raised the issue of how life began in the solar system. The
idea was largely ignored until the 1950s when some American scientists began
trying to produce the building blocks of life ã complex molecules.

Astrobiology took off again in 1995, when scientists realized it was
possible to search for Earth-like planets beyond our solar system,
discovered a Martian meteorite that some believe contains fossil life, and
found a first extrasolar planet. These events prompted the U.S. space agency
to form the NASA Astrobiology Institute in 1995. The institute supports
astrobiology research and education through its collaborative members.

The graduate students meeting in Tucson will focus not so much on presenting
scientific results as on exchanging ideas, Turnbull said. Young
astrobiologists come from astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology,
philosophy, and other disciplines. However, they have broader training in
astrobiology than do senior scholars, who belong more to the individual

NASA Astrobiology Institute Director Bruce Runnegar will attend, but more as
an observer than presenter.

The conference will be held on the UA campus and at the University Marriott,
880 E. Second St. It is funded through UA’s Steward Observatory and the
National Optical Astronomy Observatory, which won membership in the NASA
Astrobiology Institute last June.

Media are welcome to cover conference sessions, Turnbull said. More
information can be found at the Astrobiology Graduate Conferences Web site,