Astrobiology Humanities Graduate Student Researcher

UC Santa Cruz has a tradition of humanistic inquiry grounded in social justice and science studies. We believe questions about the ethics and social justice of the Astrobiology Initiative’s scientific research are important to consider as we study the origin of life, planetary and atmospheric science, instrument development, the analysis of a multitude of recently observed exoplanets, and space exploration. In support of this humanistic inquiry the Astrobiology Initiative is funding an Astrobiology Humanities Graduate Student Researcher who will help to currate a reading list and engage with a study group in converstation to think about the ethics of Astrobiology resesarch.

Where Astrobiology studies life beyond Earth. The scope of astrobiological inquiry encompasses the past, present, and future of life: what is life? What was life? Where else will we find life? 

What kind of ethics could possibly develop for such a field, which connects origin with destiny in a rigorously scientific framework? 

There is no straight and narrow path through questions posed on cosmological scales, where light itself bends through space and time, and life constantly moves and adapts within its biosphere. That said, astrobiology is fundamentally bound to its local origin: as expansive as it might become, our astrobiological ethics must remain grounded in our terrestrial affairs.

One way to balance these seemingly incompatible demands—the galactic scope of the inquiry and our hyperlocal, terrestrial starting point—is through humanistic attention to some questions at the edge of scientific inquiry. These questions—a sampling of which follows—guide the humanities and arts contributions to UCSC’s Astrobiology Initiative.

  • How do we look, listen and probe for life, and how do our detection instruments enhance our planetary perception?
  • What intellectual backgrounds and cultural commitments motivate astrobiology’s guiding interest in life rather than non-life?
  • Do our provincial attempts at planetary protection—either of earth’s own fragile ecology or of the ecologies of exoplanets—accord with our understanding of symbiogenesis? 
  • How can we imagine life beyond the anthropomorphic and the terrestrial?
  • How does Earth communicate terran complexity beyond the biosphere?
  • How do we represent ourselves (our species, our planet) to the cosmos?
  • What material, political, and social transformations would be necessary for us to explore an extrasolar object, given our current conditions on earth?
  • How should the future of space exploration take into account histories of terrestrial colonization?
  • How has astrobiology transformed humankind’s relationship to the sky?  How will it do so in the future?
  • Is it possible to compare the observational and evidence-gathering methods of astrobiology to those employed by nonwestern cultures to interpret the sky?
  • What role does language play in astrobiological research?
  • Was panspermia in our past, and should intentional panspermia be part of our future?
  • Is an ethics of terraforming possible?

The application period for academic year 2020-2021 has ended. Check back soon for future opportunities.