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NASA, Library of Congress Establish Honorary Astrobiology Chair

November 30, 2011

NASA and the Library of Congress have established the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA-Library of Congress chair in Astrobiology at the Library’s scholarly research organization, the John W. Kluge Center in Washington. The chair is named for the late Nobel Laureate and founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Baruch “Barry” Blumberg.

Astrobiology is the study of the origins, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. Astrobiology addresses three fundamental questions: How did life begin and evolve? Is there life elsewhere? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?

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 the NASA Astrobiology Institute director from 1999 to 2002. The institute’s mission is to promote interdisciplinary research in astrobiology, train the next generation of astrobiologists, provide scientific and technical leadership for NASA space missions, and share astrobiology’s discoveries with learners of all ages.

“Relationships with external research organizations are critical to NASA’s success as a leader in science and technology,” NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati said. “Opportunities like the Blumberg chair really help strengthen those relationships.”

At the Library of Congress, Blumberg was a founding member of the Scholar’s Council, a 12-member group of distinguished scholars which advises the Librarian of Congress on matters of scholarship.

“This collaboration between NASA and the Library of Congress is an unparalleled opportunity to broaden public discourse on the intersection of astrobiology and its societal implications,” said NASA Astrobiology Institute Director Carl Pilcher of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. “Astrobiology uses the tools of modern science to address questions with philosophical, ethical and theological implications. The chair will be able to use the vast resources of the Library of Congress to explore these issues.”

An annual international competition will be held to select a chairperson, who will serve in residence at the Kluge Center for up to one year, beginning in fall 2012.

Likely research topics include the societal implications of discovering life beyond Earth, exploring whether life is rare in the universe, or the ways astrobiology influences and is influenced by culture.

“For many years, Barry worked in his inimitable and energetic way to connect scholars from astrobiology with those studying the humanities,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “We are delighted to be moving forward with this important opportunity to examine the societal implications of this frontier field.”

Applications for the chair will be solicited by the Library of Congress and reviewed by a panel jointly established by the library and NASA. The first selection will be announced in spring 2012.

For more information about the NASA Astrobiology Program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute, visit: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov

For more information about the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, visit: http://www.loc.gov/loc/kluge




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