Walkowicz Named Astrobiology Chair at Kluge Center of the Library of Congress

Big news, everybody: I am over the moon to announce that I am the new Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress!

Wait, what?!

The position is officially called the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology in The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress (phew!). I’m the fifth person to hold the position, and the first non-male to do so. The Blumberg Chair does research at the intersection of astrobiology (a.k.a. the study of life in the universe) and society.

So you will be at the Library of Congress?

Yep! I’ll be there for a year, starting in October of 2017. I’m still an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium, this is just a short sojourn to do some new research!

What will you be working on?

In short, the ethics of Mars exploration! Humans have long dreamt about what it might be like to go to Mars, and in the past few years we’ve heard everyone from President Obama to private companies like SpaceX saying we’re headed for the Red Planet. That’s exciting, but it also brings up some essential questions. The history of exploration on our own planet is, sadly, often a history of exploitation— both of the environment, and of indigenous life (human and non-human). Mars is both a place of essential astrobiological importance, and a vessel for how we imagine our futures— so I’m asking, can we explore in a way that is inclusive? Instead of recycling harmful narratives, can we create new ones that join lessons from the diverse histories of exploration on our own planet together with cutting-edge Mars research? I’ll be using the unique collections of the Library of Congress to study these questions through the lens of science, history, and policy. I’ll also be convening a series of symposia to bring together the brightest, most diverse minds working at the crossroads of science and society today, to discuss paths towards becoming an interplanetary species that enhance access to space, rather than mirroring our Earthbound inequalities. The best part is that these symposia will directly include the “Mars Generation”, as I’ll be working with Urban Alliance, a teen development program based in Washington DC, as well as other area schools and education programs, to directly bring youth voices and vision into exploring Mars.

What about all the other stuff you’re doing?

I’ll still be Director of the LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program— my postdoc Adam Miller and I, along with the DSFP leadership council, are looking forward to an exciting year ahead for the DSFP. I will also still be conducting my usual line of research on anomaly detection with my grad student, Daniel Giles. Sadly, I’ll be stepping down as the LSST Science Collaboration Coordinator after the summer ends, but I know the LSST community is full of great leaders who can rise into that role and make it even better.

Stay tuned!

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