Philosophical Society of Washington

Astrobiology

William Newman
University of California


2217th Meeting Abstract
Friday, February 16, 2007 at 8:15 PM

Abstract:

Astrobiology is the name given by NASA to a discipline that integrates the life and physical sciences in an effort to understand some of the deepest philosophical questions emerging from manís quest to understand his place in the cosmos. These investigations are carried out at a number of NASA laboratories and a number of universities, including UCLA, which constitute NASAís Astrobiology Institute (NAI). Astrobiology can be best defined by ten objectives: (1) Understand how life arose on Earth; (2) Determine the general principles governing the organization of matter into living systems; (3) Explore how live evolves on the molecular, organism, and ecosystem level; (4) Determine how the terrestrial biosphere has coevolved with the Earth; (5) Establish limits for life in environments that provide analogues for conditions on other worlds; (6) Determine what makes a planet habitable and how common these worlds are in the universe; (7) Determine how to determine the signature of life on other worlds; (8) Determine whether there is (or once was) life elsewhere in our solar system, particularly on Mars and Europa; (9) Determine how ecosystems respond to environmental change on time-scales relevant to human life on Earth; and (10) Understand the response of terrestrial life to conditions in space or on other planets. In this lecture, we will focus on the 6th of these objectives and discuss how the discovery of extra-solar planetary systems has taken these topics from the realm of science fiction and speculation to the methods of science and laboratory-based experiments.

William I. Newman

About the Author:

William I. Newman is Professor in the Departments of Earth & Space Sciences, Physics & Astronomy, and Mathematics at UCLA where he has been a member of the faculty since 1980 and a member of its Center for Astrobiology. He formerly was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton working in astrophysics and nonlinear dynamics, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in astrophysical and geophysical fluid dynamics at Cornell University and in the USSR Academy of Sciences, a Stanislaw Ulam Visiting Scholar in nonlinear studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a Morris Belkin Visiting Professor in applied mathematics and theoretical biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He is a theoretician who uses the methods of applied and computational mathematics together with those of theoretical physics in applications ranging from geophysics and planetary science to astrophysics and biology. He has published over 100 scientific and technical papers.

He earned his B.Sc. (First Class Honors) and M.Sc. in theoretical physics at the University of Alberta in Canada. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in theoretical astrophysics from Cornell University.

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