American astrobiologist David H. Grinspoon begins his one-year tenure Nov. 1 as the first Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center. An astrobiologist who studies the possible conditions for life on other planets, Grinspoon is curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and adjunct professor of astrophysical and planetary science at the University of Colorado.
He will spend one year at the Library of Congress in research on a new book examining the history of the Earth with focus on the Anthropocene era, the name some scientists give to the time when humans become a geological force on Earth. Grinspoon will also engage in public-outreach activities. "The Anthropocene era is somewhat controversial still," Grinspoon said. "It’s a useful concept to look at the era from an astrobiology point of view, to take a total survey of the Earth’s history and look at what’s happening now geologically in an interplanetary context. Looking at the Earth compared to similar planets over time helps to illuminate our current situation."
Grinspoon is the author of "Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life," which won the 2004 PEN literary award for nonfiction. His writing has appeared in Slate, Scientific American, Natural History, The Sciences, Astronomy, Seed, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. For Sky & Telescope magazine, Grinspoon is a contributing editor and writes the monthly "Cosmic Relief" column.
In 2006, Grinspoon was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal by the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. He currently serves on the Science Team for the Curiosity Rover mission to Mars and as the interdisciplinary scientist for the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft mission to Venus.
"I was a Sci-Fi geek from a very young age," Grinspoon said. "My interest in what makes planets work led me to study how life is an integral part of planetary systems. Working at the Library of Congress will allow me the time to really focus on this current project, as well as have research support digging into the collections."
The astrobiology chair represents an opportunity for high-level collaboration in understanding the interface between astrobiology and human society. Astrobiology addresses three fundamental questions: "How did life begin and evolve?" "Is there life beyond Earth?" and "What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?" Before the advent of modern science, these questions were largely in the realm of philosophy, theology and ethics. Today, the tools of science are increasingly being brought to bear to address these questions.
The Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Kluge Center is the result of collaboration between NASA and the Library of Congress and is named for Baruch "Barry" Blumberg, the late Kluge Center Scholars Council member, Nobel Laureate and founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Blumberg was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovery of the Hepatitis B virus and development of a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis B infection. He served as NASA Astrobiology Institute director from 1999 to 2002. At the Library of Congress, Blumberg was a founding member of the Scholars Council, distinguished scholars who advise the Librarian of Congress on matters of scholarship.
The Kluge Center is accepting applications and nominations for the chair in astrobiology for 2013-2014. Applications and nominations must be postmarked by Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. For information, guidelines and forms, visit www.loc.gov/loc/kluge/fellowships/NASA-astrobiology.html. Further questions about the chair can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world's best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library's rich resources, and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For more information about the Kluge Center visit www.loc.gov/kluge/.
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs, publications and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov.