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SBI/IGERT 2007 Summer Workshop
June 17-19, 2007 -- Hallmark Resort, Newport, Oregon
About fifty people met in Newport for two days of interdisciplinary talks and discussions at the third annual Subsurface Biosphere Workshop. Outside, the setting was idyllic with sunny weather and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean; inside, talks were engaging and stimulated discussion among researchers in diverse fields from oceanography to environmental engineering. This year's format interspersed talks by invited experts, OSU faculty, and graduate students in the NSF-funded Earth's Subsurface Biosphere Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGERT). It also included a poster session and updates from the Subsurface Biosphere Initiative (SBI) and IGERT program leaders. Talks covered a diversity of topics from the search for microbial life in rock kilometers underground to the use of microbes to power electrical fuel cells on the ocean floor.
Presentations by invited speakers and OSU faculty members highlighted emerging technologies that are rapidly advancing studies of microbial ecology in the subsurface. Mary Firestone, a professor from the University of California, Berkeley, gave the keynote address and spoke about rapid advancements in genomic technologies and the new possibilities they offer for describing complex soil microbial communities with thousands of taxa. Peter Nico, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, gave a primer on synchrotron spectromicroscopy and the opportunities it presents as a research technique for biogeochemistry. Tommy Phelps, a researcher at the Oak Ridge National Lab, spoke about the ability of life to persist under the extreme temperature and pressure conditions of the deep subsurface and the potential for future research at a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. OSU faculty members Markus Kleber (Soil Science), Dorthe Wildenschild (Environmental Engineering), and Brian Wood (Environmental Engineering) also gave presentation about their research. Markus and Dorthe have new faculty positions that are partially funded by the SBI.
This year's workshop was also the first to include several talks by IGERT fellows from OSU and Portand State University. The speakers were members of the first cohort of students in the NSF-funded fellowship program and many are now completing their dissertations. Stephanie Boyle (OSU Soil Science) and Shawn Starkenburg (OSU Microbiology) spoke about soil microbes important for nitrogen cycling. Andy Sabalowsky (OSU Environmental Engineering) spoke about microbes that dechlorinate high concentrations of the contaminant TCE. Jessica Goin (PSU, Geosciences) spoke about her studies of microbial mats in hot springs as a modern analogue for stromatolites, a rock structure thought to represent early forms of life. Rebecca Poulson (OSU Oceanography) spoke about the formation of Molybdenum in marine sediments, a mineral geologists hope can provide information about the ancient ocean's chemistry. Finally, Mark Nielsen (OSU Oceanography) spoke about his work to develop microbial fuel cells to power oceanographic instruments.
Younger cohorts of IGERT students were featured in the Monday evening poster session and in a presentation by this year's "IGERT Group Process Training" (GPT) participants. GPT brings together IGERT students in different disciplines to work cooperatively on a research project. This year's students chose to write a review paper on a geochemical process, the anaerobic oxidation of methane, that they could submit for publication in a peer reviewed journal. The students spoke warmly about their mentor, OSU oceanography professor Rick Colwell, and about the rewards of working with others with different science backgrounds. Their presentation sparked a discussion with the entire workshop group about the future of interdisciplinary studies and the merits of concentrating on one specialization versus taking the time to gain a multidisciplinary background.
Program updates by Lew Semprini, chair of the SBI Executive Committee and Dave Myrold, director of the IGERT program, also stimulated discussion among workshop participants. The IGERT program is beginning its final year and Dave spoke about the application process to renew funding for another five year cycle. Lew spoke about accomplishments of the SBI so far and plans for the final two years of the initiative.
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