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ODU Ph.D. Graduate Picked to Lead Gordon Geobiology Seminar

Noffke with Bower in 2008 photo.

Dina Bower, a research scientist with the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., (CIW) who received her Ph.D. in ocean, earth and atmospheric science from Old Dominion University in 2008, has been named chair of the Gordon Research Conference Geobiology Seminar for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows.

The seminar, a new offering from the Gordon Research Conference organization, will be held in January 2013 in Ventura, Calif. (http://www.grc.org/programs.aspx?year=2013&program=grs_geo)

Shortly after she received her doctorate from ODU, Bower was chosen for a NASA fellowship at the CIW, where she has been studying new ways to detect evidence of the microbes that lived on Earth billions of years ago, and possibly on other planets as well.

Bower's adviser at ODU, Nora Noffke, an associate professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, was instrumental in starting the Gordon Research Conference on geobiology.

The Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) on geobiology came about in response to the 2011 Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Geobiology, the first ever for this topic and which was chaired by Noffke. "There were many students and postdocs at her conference, including myself, and we all looked forward to the next one," Bower said. "At the end of the meeting we were asked if we would be interested in starting a GRS - the seminars are only for grad students and postdocs - in concert with the next GRC. I volunteered. My co-chair is Jim Schiffbauer at Virginia Tech."

Bower, said the seminar will focus on a few main themes: microbial structures in ancient and modern settings; taphonomy and micropaleontology; biomineralization and the co-evolution of minerals and microbes; and life detection for applications to early life on Earth and other planets

The work Bower has done during the past few years has been in collaboration with Andrew Steele, a staff member at the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory, who is a leader in life-on-Mars studies for NASA.

With Noffke at ODU, Bower studied geological structures found in ancient rocks that can be traced to cyanobacterial mats-blanket-like weaves of microbial colonies. These mats leave distinctive patterns in modern-day tidal sandflats. The two researchers found the same patterns and structures in 3-billion-year-old rocks in southern Africa, establishing some of the sturdiest evidence yet of the first microbial life that colonized seaside areas of Earth.

For her doctoral thesis, Bower focused on how the research findings from the cyanobacterial mat studies could be applied to NASA's search for life on Mars. Her postdoctoral work has included analysis of mineral biosignatures in ancient rocks.

Gordon Research Conferences is a nonprofit organization that works internationally to promote forums for the presentation and discussion of frontier research in sciences and related technologies.

This article was posted on: March 26, 2012

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