Montana State University

MSU chemist earns trip to Astrobiology School in Iceland

June 26, 2009


Craig Jolley, an MSU postdoc researcher at MSU, will study life in extreme environments at a prestigious NASA field institute in Iceland. Photo by Suzi Taylor, MSU Extended University.   High-Res Available

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Craig Jolley, a postdoctoral researcher at Montana State University, has earned admission to a prestigious summer field institute in Reykjavik, Iceland. The school is sponsored by NASA's Astrobiology Institute and the Nordic Network of Astrobiology Graduate Schools. The three-week program, called "Water, Ice and the Origin of Life in the Universe," aims to give participants a thorough understanding of the role of water in the evolution of life in the cosmos.

Along with about 40 other graduate students and postdocs from the U.S. and Europe, Jolley will study everything from the formation of water molecules in space to the evolution of earth's first organisms.
Students will travel to Hrauneyjar in inner Iceland to visit glaciers, geysers, hot springs, lava fields and Mars-like areas. There, participants will learn more about Iceland's "extremophiles" -- micro-organisms that live in extremely hot, cold, acidic or otherwise inhospitable conditions.

Iceland--like Yellowstone National Park--is an ideal gathering spot for astrobiologists, scientists who study life in the universe, Jolley said. Many astrobiologists theorize that if life were discovered beyond Earth, it might resemble the microbial life found in Earth's extreme environments.

MSU is one of 14 institutions funded by NASA's Astrobiology Institute, an inter-disciplinary consortium that studies the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. Each team contributes a particular strength and research focus; much of MSU's research relates to the unique chemistry found in Yellowstone and other extreme environments.

Jolley who is from Tacoma, Wash., came to MSU in August 2008 from Arizona State University, where he studied biological physics. He now works under Trevor Douglas with the Center for Bioinspired Nanomaterials, and Jolley said his research focuses on iron sulfide nanoparticles (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter). Iron sulfur minerals are thought by many to have a key role in the development of life on Earth and may be important for the development of life elsewhere in the universe.

In addition to the Iceland program, Jolley has been accepted into Planetary Science Summer School at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. For one week in August, the participants will work closely with JPL's elite "Team X" to design a theoretical NASA mission to the outer solar system, including instruments, payload, budget, schedule and scientific goals.

Suzi Taylor (406) 994-7957, taylor@montana.edu