StarConn 2011 Abstract & Biographical Information
JUNE 4, 2011



Biographical Information


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StarConn 2011

9:30 Patricia M. Beauchamp - Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Missions to Titan:  the Enigmatic Moon of Saturn




First Voyager and now the Cassini-Huygens mission have revolutionized our understanding of the Titan system and its potential for harboring the ingredients necessary for life. The discoveries reveal that Titan is rich in organics, has liquid lakes of methane/ethane in the northern latitudes, vast dune fields nearer the equator and likely contains an enormous subsurface ocean. In addition, Titan has energy sources to drive chemical evolution With these recent findings, there is a great deal of interest in returning to Titan and this presentation will discuss how results from the Cassini-Huygens mission have led to future mission concepts which aim to better understand Titan as a prebiotic chemical system, where the interior, surface and atmosphere interact to create an environment that could be compared to early Earth.



Dr. Beauchamp joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in 1992 after a decade in surface science research at Aerojet Electrosystems Co.  She is currently working on developing future Outer Planet Missions and was responsible for coordinating the effort to define the scientific rationale for the next flagship mission to Titan, the instruments needed and how the data could be obtained that would satisfy those requirements.  She is also a Co-I and theme lead on the NASA Astrobiology Institute "Titan as a Prebiotic Chemical System".  Prior to that she managed the Planetary Instrument Development office and led the Center for In-Situ Exploration and Sample Return (CISSR) in the Engineering and Science Directorate.  She was Project Manager for the Miniature Integrated Camera Spectrometer, which flew on the New Millennium DS1 mission in 1998 and has held several technical and management positions in the Observational Instruments Division. 


Dr. Beauchamp obtained her Ph.D in Chemistry from Caltech followed by post-doctoral research in Chemical Engineering at Caltech, where she conducted fundamental investigations of chemical reactions on single crystal surfaces. She received her B.S. in Chemistry and B.A. in Mathematics with honors from California State University , Fullerton in 1976. She has received a number of student and professional awards, most recently JPL’s highest Explorer award, and is the author or co-author of over forty scientific publications, a patent, and numerous government technical reports.



11:00 am  -  John Wettlaufer - Yale University.

Turbulent Collisions and the Condensed Matter Physics of Cosmogony

Theorists debate whether the observed crossover of normal hadronic matter to a Quark-Gluon Plasma is a phase transition captured by a universality class emerging from studies of condensed matter. Here I describe how rather more easily accessible surface phase transitions in ordinary matter underlie a key step in cosmogony. The formation of a solar system such as ours is believed to have followed a multi-stage process around a protostar and its associated accretion disk. Whipple first noted that planetesimal growth by particle agglomeration is strongly influenced by gas drag, and others have shown that when midplane particle mass densities approach or exceed those of the gas, solid-solid interactions dominate the drag effect. The size dependence of the drag creates a ``bottleneck'' at the meter scale with such bodies rapidly spiraling into the central star, whereas much smaller or larger particles do not. Successful planetary accretion requires rapid planetesimal growth to km scales before photoevaporative stellar wind clears the disk of source material. Extensions of well studied surface phase transitions provide a physical basis for efficient sticking through collisional melting/amphorphization/polymorphization and subsequent fusion/annealing to drive accretion. Therefore, as inspiraling meter sized bodies collide with smaller particles they grow sufficiently rapidly to settle into stable Keplerian orbits. The basic theory applies to low and high melting temperature materials and thus to the inner and outer regions of a nebula.

John Wettlaufer is an applied mathematician with enterprises that lie on and sometimes define the boundaries between what are considered more traditional disciplines. He draws together and develops new approaches in applicable mathematics and condensed matter physics, with implications in astrophysical, biophysical, environmental, geophysical, and technological problems. The scales of his interests range from atomic to meters, with implications on much larger scales. Amongst other things he is occupied by the microscopic kinetics in crystal growth, melting and nucleation, pattern formation and the morphological stability of phase boundaries with applications in engineering and natural solidification; static, dynamic, and size effects in melting and wetting; ice biophysical interactions, frost heave dynamics in ice and granular materials; geometric and topological evolution equations for multiphase materials; fluid mechanics; sea ice thermodynamics, and air-sea-ice interactions on geophysical scales. He has spent many months on drifting sea ice, combining visceral and intellectual interests in snow and ice. He has students and collaborators in applied mathematics, astrophysics, geophysics, and physics. Having begun his undergraduate studies in physics and mathematics at the University of Puget Sound, he went on to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he worked for many years and where he maintains an Affiliate Professorship in the Department of Physics. In 2002 he moved to Yale where he is presently the A. M. Bateman Professor of Geophysics, Physics, and Applied Mathematics. As a Guggenheim Fellow he will focus on stochastic and dynamical systems theories of abrupt changes in climate with a particular emphasis on the state and fate of the sea ice cover in the Arctic. He will spend his time at the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford, the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge and at the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Stockholm.

1:30 pm  -  Joseph Lazio -  Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Square Kilometer Array

From Dust to Life:  Astrobiology at Radio Wavelengths

Observations at radio wavelengths have proven to be a crucial aspect in our search for life elsewhere in the Universe. To date, radio wavelength observations have shown proto-planetary systems in which it is likely that planets are forming today and illustrated that carbon is likely to be a crucial element in the formation of living organisms. In the future, radio wavelength observations may help select targets for more intensive observations by revealing planets with strong magnetic fields that can shield their surfaces from harmful cosmic radiation or even detect the signals from other technological civilizations. I will review how radio wavelengths have contributed to the search to life in the Universe and sketch the future progress expected as the international community deploys a series of new telescopes, ultimately culminating in the Square Kilometre Array.

Joseph Lazio is a Principal Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, and the Project Scientist for the Square Kilometre Array. He routinely observes with some of the world's leading radio telescopes, including the Green Bank Telescope, the Expanded Very Large Array, and the Very Long Baseline Array. He has had a long-standing interest in astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including how signals from other civilizations might be affected by their passage through the Milky Way Galaxy. As Project Scientist, he leads the overall scientific direction of the next generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, for which one of the key science projects is The Cradle of Life & Astrobiology.

3:30 pm  -  David Spiegel - Princeton University

Climatic Habitability, Generalized Milankovitch Cycles, and Theory of Giant Exoplanets

In the last 20 years, the science of extrasolar planets has blossomed from the dream of a few dedicated planet hunters to one of the core disciplines of astrophysics for the foreseeable future. We have moved from the first tentative detections of planet candidates to an era in which there are more than 500 confirmed planets known and nearly 2000 probable exoplanets. Moreover, we are in an era of characterizing planets, learning about their atmosphere and interior structure and composition. I will review some highlights of exoplanet science to-date, and will discuss how we may hope to learn about the possible presence of life on exoplanetary systems with the advent of new telescopes in the next several decades.

Dave Spiegel is a postdoctoral research associate in astrophysics at Princeton University. He studied mathematics as an undergraduate and he received his Ph.D. in astronomy from Columbia University. His research focuses on theoretical studies of planets around other stars, trying to understand the climate, structure, and evolution of giant planets, and the climatic habitability of smaller, more Earth-like planets.

Evening Program Begins at 7:00 PM

Keynote Speaker
7:30 - 8:30

John Delano

NASA's search for life in the galaxy:
Information from exoplanets and the ancient Earth


This presentation will describe our current understanding of the environments and processes that led to the origin of life on Earth, and  likelihood of similar environments and processes occurring on exoplanets  orbiting within the habitable zones of their host-stars. The information on this exciting topic is contributed by scientific studies in several disciplines: astrophysics, biochemistry, and geochemistry


John Delano received his Ph.D. in geochemistry at Stony Brook University, and currently holds the rank of Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University at Albany in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences.  He is currently the Associate Director of the New York Center for Astrobiology, which is funded by NASA’s Astrobiology Institutes program.  He has served on, and chaired, numerous scientific review panels for both NASA (e.g., Discovery missions; New Frontiers missions) and NSF, and provided invited testimony to a Presidential Commission in 2004 dealing with NASA’s plans for future exploration.  His research is funded by NASA, and has resulted in nearly 60 publications in the professional scientific literature.  He is married with one child, and his family has made major commitments to renewable energy systems at their home in order to live in an environmentally sustainable way.







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