The Best of Our Knowledge
2:22 pm
Mon September 21, 2009

The Best of Our Knowledge # 992

Albany, NY – ASTROBIOLOGY RESEARCH IN EDUCATION SERIES

"THE ORIGIN OF LIFE: WHERE AND WHEN DID IT OCCUR?"
Part Two: THE SEEDING FROM SPACE MODEL, THE HYDROTHERMAL VENT MODEL, AND THE SEARCH FOR LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS -

NASA funded research just published reveals a new pathway for the evolution of life on Earth. The Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute says, "This work is a major advance in our understanding of how a group of organisms came to be that learned to harness the sun and then effect the greatest environmental change Earth has ever seen."

Last week, we talked about the necessary elements for carbon-based life forms, like water and an energy source. And we talked about one of three theories on the origin of life - called Darwin's Warm Little Pond. You can still hear that show, number 991, at: http://www.wamc.org/prog-tbook.html

This week, we discuss the final two of the basic three theories - The Seeding from Space Model, and The Hydrothermal Vent Model. Plus, we also talk about the search for life on other planets.

To discuss these subjects, we spoke with Dr. Jim Kasting from the Department of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. He has been named Distinguished Professor. And last year, Dr. Kasting was honored with an award from the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life. Over the years, he's become a well-known authority and published researcher in this field.

Glenn Busby reports. (11:51)

The preceding is made possible by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, through support of the New York Center for Astrobiology, located at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute - in partnerships with the University at Albany, the University of Arizona, and Syracuse University.

**(For more information about this story, or any of the other more than 150 stories featured in this current and past exclusive radio series, or if you would like to hear them again via your computer, the website given at the conclusion of the above segment is: www.origins.rpi.edu )**

STEM EDUCATION PIPELINE AND WORKFORCE -

The most recent edition of "Professional Women and Minorities" shows that even with some minor gains, the whole human resources potential for STEM - science, technology, engineering and math in the U.S. is not being fully utilized.

Findings indicate women have made some gains in various professional fields, yet women's progress in STEM fields has been uneven. Members of key U.S. minority groups, mostly notably African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians, have barely gained any ground in moving into scientific and professional fields, both in education and in the workplace.

According to Lisa Frehill, Executive Director of The Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology and one of the report's authors, "maintaining the U.S. technological edge depends on our ability to recruit and retain engineers from our deep talent pool."

Dr. Frehill says "while we have seen incredible progress in women's participation in some key areas, women's low level of representation in computer science and engineering needs to be a matter of national concern."

Also reacting was Shirley Malcom, Director of Education at the AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and past member of The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. Malcom writes that "the stark reality of the data, documents the need for continued efforts to diversify the professions, especially science, engineering and mathematics." She says "despite advances the promises of access, opportunity and advancement in these fields [remain] unrealized, a condition that threatens America's future."

These sharp warnings are being echoed by a current member of The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, known as PCAST. Dr. Shirley Jackson accepted that appointment earlier this year at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, where President Barack Obama spoke. Dr. Jackson is also President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious technological research universities. President Jackson spoke with us recently.

Glenn Busby reports. (6:23)