The Search for Life In Space: Diverse Perspectives

Sparrow Roch, “The Search for Life In Space: Diverse Perspectives”
Mentor: Jean Creighton, Physics
Oral Presentation Block 1

Is there life beyond Earth? This question has fascinated scientists and driven academic exploration throughout the ages. Yet, while astronomy is built on contributions from many people, those noted throughout its history seem to only represent a specific demographic. So much of what is written in astronomy textbooks comes from a small fraction of humanity. To understand other perspectives, show the diversity of those searching for life in space, and encourage the next generation of STEM researchers, this project aims to highlight scientists both past and present of varying backgrounds – specifically women and people of color. Astrobiology articles were originally the focus, but it was quickly realized that finding scientists to highlight based on author name alone was difficult. Additionally, some subtopics had fewer articles to explore. The focus changed to highlighting contributions of modern scientists who could be contacted and learned about more easily. Another goal was to create article summaries to make potentially confusing content more accessible by a wider audience. So far, the project findings have been used to make educational supplements for Physics 194: Searching for Life in the Cosmos. It is hoped that these materials can also benefit future classes. Findings will be incorporated into a planetarium program about searching for life in space. After, it is intended to share results at conferences of informal educators (such as planetarium professionals) so participants can incorporate contributions of diverse scientists in astrobiology in their programs. Outreach efforts will attempt to build a network with these scientists who may be willing to share their knowledge and be a point of contact. Ideally, this project will contribute to making UW-Milwaukee campus and its astronomy curriculum more radically welcoming to all students – regardless of background – who are interested in learning about life in the cosmos.