99-53
May 26, 1999

 

Lecture at Brookhaven Lab on Searching for Extraterrestrial Life, June 23

UPTON, NY -Kenneth H. Nealson, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will give a lecture entitled "Searching for Extraterrestrial Life: Lessons from the Earth" at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, on Wednesday, June 23, at 4 p.m. in Berkner Hall. The lecture is open to the public free of charge.

In the past decade, numerous scientific studies have given credence to the idea of extraterrestrial life. While many of these investigations have been in the area of planetary science, others have come from studies of life on Earth. Today, scientists' perception of what constitutes life on Earth has changed drastically. In his talk, Dr. Nealson will discuss the new definition of life, how its distinctive signatures might be detected, and strategies that might be used to find extraterrestrial life.

Today, the nature of life on Earth has been redefined in terms of genetic diversity. Living organisms are now classified into three kingdoms. Two of these kingdoms, bacteria and archaea, are prokaryotes - cellular organisms that have no distinct nucleus. The third kingdom encompasses complex, multicellular forms - plants, animals and fungi - as well as unicellular organisms known as protists, such as amoebae and protozoa. Protists are eukaryotes, organisms with organized nuclei. The prokaryotic organisms are extremely hardy and genetically diverse life forms capable of inhabiting niches that were not considered habitable even a decade ago. Thus, new methods to find extraterrestrial life would take into account the tenacity and toughness of these life forms.

Dr. Nealson earned a B.S. in biochemistry in 1965, and a Ph.D. in microbiology in 1969, both from the University of Chicago. After taking a postdoctoral position at Harvard University, Dr. Nealson joined the faculty of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, in 1973. In 1985, he took on the title of Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Center for Great Lakes Studies. He joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a senior scientist in 1998, at the same time he became a faculty associate at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

Among many honors, Dr. Nealson has received the National Academy of Sciences' Distinguished Leader in Life Sciences Award in 1998. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a member of many professional societies, including the American Association for Advancement
for Science.

For more information about the lecture, call Brookhaven's Public Affairs Office at (516)344-2345. The Laboratory is located on William Floyd Parkway (County Road 46), one-and-a-half miles north of Exit 68 on the Long Island Expressway.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory creates and operates major facilities available to university, industrial and government personnel for basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences, and in selected energy technologies. The Laboratory is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a not-for-profit research management company, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.

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