The CENIEH collaborates on an educational project to investigate extraplanetary life

The CENIEH laboratories have been made available to an astrobiology research project of the Universidad de Burgos, directed at secondary students, in which real samples collected in Antarctica and the Atacama Desert in Chile will be used

This week, an astrobiology research project got under way at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), directed at secondary students, under the direction of the Universidad de Burgos (UBU) researcher Susana Jorge, whose objective is to detect the existence of life beyond our planet by analyzing real samples collected in Antarctica and the Atacama Desert in Chile.

The CENIEH laboratories have been made available to this project entitled “Is there extraplanetary life?: Looking for signs of extremophiles in rocks”, by analyzing the cited samples for bacteria capable of surviving and reproducing in extreme environments like those found on Mars, using the methodology applied by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The project consists of three sessions which will be held over the first quarter of 2022. The first of these took place this week in the CENIEH Microscopy and Micro-Computed Tomography Laboratory, both in person, with the attendance of students from the Colegio Santa María la Nueva y San José Artesano in Burgos, and streamed online, with virtual attendance by students from several educational centers in Málaga: I.E.S. Martín Rivero, I.E.S. Nuestra Señora de la Victoria, I.E.S. Pablo del SAZ and the Swans international Secondary School.

In addition to the laboratory work, the students had a chance to visit the other facilities at the CENIEH, including the Archaeometry Laboratory, where the second project session will take place on February 10th.

“In this project, we guide the students through the different steps to look for life on Mars. We began by talking about why it is decided to expend so much effort and money on the quest for signs of extraplanetary life. We organized ourselves into groups of scientists and through the students' work, we reached the same conclusion as NASA and the ESA: researching the existence of life on Mars is indeed worthwhile. In the later sessions, we will see how to go about this”, explains Jorge.

A European project

This activity comes under the auspices of SCIENCE IES - 2021 Research and Innovation Initiation Project for Secondary Education in Andalucía, and it is financed by the Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología (FECYT), with the support of the European Educational Research Association.

As Jorge says, the main objective of this European initiative is to encourage scientific vocations, “for which it is very important that young people should have direct contact with the science done by working scientists each day at research centers like the CENIEH”.