What is Astrobiology?
Astrobiology, although its own discipline, is best represented as a scientific framework that allows scientists of different STEM disciplines to interact under a common goal - to understand whether or not we are alone in the universe.
Astrobiologist are trained in diverse STEM disciplines, ranging from physics, geology, astronomy, microbiology, genetics, planetary science, and evolution to engineering and computer science to name a just a few of the many STEM related fields that converge within astrobiology (see Fig. 1). It is thus a highly integrative STEM discipline.
At SAGAnet.org, we have found that astrobiology provides an attractive theme for generating excitement about science in K-12 youth, while simultaneously providing a broad range of STEM disciplines within which to engage students. Astrobiology thus provides an ideal interdisciplinary subject to focus our STEM mentoring efforts.
Figure 1: Core STEM disciplines of astrobiology. Astrobiology includes many subdisciplines of these diverse fields such as: planetary science and cosmochemistry (astronomy); microbiology and evolution (biology); prebiotic chemistry and biochemistry (chemistry); thermodynamics and atmospheric physics (physics); the history of the carbon cycle (geology); and space systems engineering (engineering). Astrobiology also encompasses unique areas of overlap between STEM disciplines such as biogeochemistry (an amalgam of biology, geology and chemistry).