The search for life in the universe to be focus of national conference in April

April 5, 2017

For the first time, Arizona will be hosting the nationally recognized Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon), bringing together scientists from across the country to report on new discoveries and to share insights in the search for life on other planets.

“We're excited that the search for signs of life in the universe is increasingly geared towards exoplanets, which is a central part of our research at ASU,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) Professor Steven Desch, who is chairing the conference. “And of course we're thrilled to be hosting the meeting in Arizona, to showcase the Southwest and ASU to our colleagues.” AbSciCon Conference 2016 Download Full Image

The conference, which will be held at the Mesa Convention Center April 24–28, will feature a variety of astrobiology topics including the possible habitable conditions on Europa and other icy worlds, whether extreme environments on Earth are valid analogs to sites on Mars, the evolution of biogeochemical cycles and environment on Earth and other planets, and if habitable “water world” exoplanets are good places to look for signatures of life. 

Highlights of the conference include a public discussion from the Origins Project at ASU and ASU Planetworks on how astrobiology informs our perspective of Earth as a planet, a panel discussion on alien life from ASU’s BEYOND Center, and a "Meet the Scientists" session, featuring experts who combine geology with organic chemistry to understand how life might have originated here on Earth, and how it might look if encountered elsewhere.

“For those who have never looked at ancient rocks, touched meteorites, or seen pieces of the Moon and Mars, this is your chance,” said Steve Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution.

In addition to the main conference, AbSciCon is offering an “Early Career Scientist” Pre-Conference School on the ASU Tempe campus April 22 and 23. Instructors will teach short “primer” classes on astronomy, planetary science, and biology to help early career scientists specializing in one field get up to speed on other fields. The pre-conference will also include workshops on science communication, proposal writing, and how to apply for jobs in academia.

AbSciCon offers graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in the student poster competition, sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Posters will be judged on originality of research, the impact to the field, and the quality of the presentation, with awards ranging from $500 to $1,000.

High school and community college students have also been invited to participate in the AbSciCon Student Mentorship Program. Up to 30 students from underserved areas of Arizona have been selected to shadow a faculty mentor and participate in the conference.

“While AbSciCon is an important event to communicate our research results to other scientists and to hear what progress is being made in the search for life in the universe, we also want to prepare the next generation of scientists to step into the role of 21st century research,” Desch said. “We're proud to be able to offer this training through the Student Mentorship Program and the Pre-Conference School.”

AbSciCon annually provides a forum for reporting on new discoveries, sharing data and insights, advancing collaborative efforts, planning new projects, and educating the next generation of astrobiologists. The conference will feature plenary sessions on current and thought-provoking topics, topical sessions, evening programs, and public and educational events.

Along with Desch, the scientific organizing committee also includes SESE’s Ariel Anbar, Hilairy Hartnett, and Sara Imari Walker, and colleagues from George Washington University, UC Riverside, Georgia Tech, Harvard and NASA, among others. 

AbSciCon sponsors include the Earth Life Science Institute, Blue Marble Space Institute, SmartSparrow, ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, SESE, and Qwaltec. The conference is supported by the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the Universities Space Research Association, NASA.  

For more information on AbSciCon and the pre-conference for early career scientists, visit:

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


ASU Cronkite School to receive AEJMC Equity and Diversity Award

April 5, 2017

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is receiving one of the highest honors in journalism education for diversity and inclusion.

The Cronkite School is the recipient of the 2017 Equity and Diversity Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Established in 2009, the Equity and Diversity Award recognizes journalism and mass communication programs that have attained measurable success in increasing equity and diversity over a three-year span. Cronkite School building The Cronkite School is the recipient of the 2017 Equity and Diversity Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Download Full Image

The award will be presented to the Cronkite School during the keynote session at the 100th AEJMC Conference in Chicago on Aug. 9.

The AEJMC selection committee said that equity and diversity “have become a way of life” at the Cronkite School. The committee noted that diversity is integral to the school’s teaching, research and service. “This has resulted in a broad definition of diversity that infuses student and faculty recruitment, curriculum design and content, outreach activities and student retention rate,” the committee said.

A recent onsite evaluation by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications said the Cronkite School “is one of the nation’s great leaders in diversity and inclusion in journalism and mass communication.”

Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan said the school works hard to ensure that diversity is top of mind for all faculty and students.

“Diversity in all of its forms is a cornerstone of the Cronkite School because it is essential to quality journalism in order to fully, fairly and accurately inform increasingly diverse audiences,” Callahan said. “To be recognized by the AEJMC with this prestigious honor is a testament to our dedicated faculty, staff and leadership.”

Callahan said the school’s approach to diversity starts with outreach to high schools with underserved populations. Since 1988, the Cronkite School has hosted a summer high school journalism institute, a two-week residential program for students from underrepresented communities to get hands-on experiences in broadcast and digital journalism at no cost.

Diversity also is a cornerstone of the curriculum. All students take a course in ethics and diversity that challenges them to think about diversity as a critical component of ethical decision-making. Skills classes, ranging from reporting to editing, emphasize assignments that encourage students to go outside their comfort zones, and diversity lessons are spread throughout the curriculum.

In Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, students report on underserved communities and multicultural issues through a nightly newscast that reaches 1.9 million households and a multiplatform website that reaches many more. Cronkite News also includes a borderlands bureau, where students report on important issues from the U.S.-Mexico border, and a Spanish-language bureau, where students produce broadcast and digital content in Spanish.

The Cronkite School recently launched Cronkite Noticias, a new digital Spanish-language platform for reporting on issues critical to Arizonans. As part of the immersion program, students produce a 30-minute news program, “Cronkite Noticias,” which airs on Unimas.

Callahan said the school has made significant strides in diversifying its student body. The percentage of minority students grew from 22 percent in 2003-2004 to nearly 40 percent this year. Additionally, he said the school has hired 15 new faculty members, more than half of whom are people of color and two-thirds of whom are women, over the past three years.

The school’s diversity and inclusion efforts extend into the journalism profession. The school is home to the National Center on Disability and Journalism, which provides guidance to journalists around the world as they cover disability issues and people with disabilities.

Cronkite also hosts the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation’s Media Sales Institute, a 10-day residential media sales program for recent college graduates. One of the key goals of the annual program is to improve the diversity of sales staffs in television and radio broadcasting.

Many of the Cronkite School’s 100-plus annual public events focus on diversity topics and include speakers from diverse backgrounds.

This is not the first time that the Cronkite School has been recognized for its diversity efforts. In 2012, the school was the recipient of ASU’s inaugural College Award for Contributions to Institutional Inclusion, a university-wide honor that recognizes college-level contributions to equity and inclusion. The award included a grant for a diversity scholar lecture series at the Cronkite School, which has featured such speakers as the late “PBS Newshour” anchor Gwen Ifill.

The AEJMC is a nonprofit organization of more than 3,700 educators, students and practitioners. Its mission is to promote the highest possible standards for journalism and mass communication education, to encourage the widest possible range of communication research, to encourage the implementation of a multicultural society in the classroom and curriculum, and to defend and maintain freedom of communication in an effort to achieve better professional practice, a better informed public, and wider human understanding.