New NASA Astrobiology Lead Team at UH Receives $5 Million Grant

University of Hawaiʻi
Dr. Karen Meech, (808) 956-6828
Institute for Astronomy
Karen Rehbock, (808) 956-6829
Institute for Astronomy
Posted: Jun 24, 2003

NASA today announced its selection of Astrobiology Institute Lead Teams, and included among the 6 new selections is the University of Hawaii with a team led by Institute for Astronomy researcher Dr. Karen Meech.

Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe its origin, evolution, distribution, and future. It brings together multiple disciplines in the physical and biological sciences to investigate some of the most fundamental questions of the natural world: How does life emerge? How do habitable worlds form and evolve? Does life exist beyond Earth? The NASA award will bring over $5 million to the university to conduct astrobiological research over the next 5 years.

"This selection is of special relevance to UH since it capitalizes on expertise from several areas in which UH is known to be internationally competitive", said Dr. Rolf Kudritzki, Director of the Institute for Astronomy and UH Manoa Interim Vice Chancellor for Research.

Astrobiology research programs that will be supported at UH will have a special focus on water as the habitat of, and chemical enabler for, life. To be included are observations by astronomers at UH of the distribution of water in interstellar gas clouds and comets and in disks around young stars using telescopes on Mauna Kea. Members of the Department of Chemistry will carry out new types of laboratory experiments, which will explain how water molecules can form in the interstellar environment. Researchers in the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences & Technology (SOEST) will investigate the role played by water in forming habitats for life in our Solar System and on planets around other stars. Earth-based studies will investigate the role played by water in forming the diversity of rocks and minerals. The UH Lead Team will also explore aquatic habitats for life in extreme environments in and around the Hawaiian Islands and will develop instruments that may one day be used to search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

"This is an exciting opportunity for UH scientists who have been studying various aspects of Astrobiology to integrate our research into a broader understandings of our origins", said principal investigator Dr. Karen Meech, "We are all tremendously excited by this opportunity."

This wide range of research topics will be spearheaded by an interdisciplinary team of UH scientists, including members from the Departments of Chemistry, of Geology and Geophysics, of Information and Computer Sciences, of Oceanography, and from the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology and the Institute for Astronomy. The program also incorporates a substantial Education/Public Outreach component, and will build strong relations with the community through a vigorous outreach program for educators and the public. "This is a perfect example of how the different branches of the University can work together to enhance our understanding of the natural world" said UH Chancellor Peter Englert.

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is an international research consortium with central offices located at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. NASA Ames is the Agency's lead center for astrobiology, the search for the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

Related Web Sites:

UH Astrobiology:

UH Institute for Astronomy:


Planetary Ecosystems and Biosystems Laboratory:

UH Center for Star and Planet Formation:

Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology:

UH Interstellar Chemistry:

NASA Astrobiology Institute:

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