From Astrobiology to Space Biology

Dr. Chris Bradburne had introduced the fascinating field of astrobiology to the group of over 50 students and faculty during his seminar earlier today. From the controversial claim of the discovery of Martian life in the 1990s to the nuts and bolts of designing space missions for the search of life in the Solar system and beyond, the talk provided a comprehensive overview of recent discoveries and posed intriguing questions not only about the possibility of finding life in distant corners of the universe, but their relationship to our own health and support of life in space.

Da Vinci Festa!

In a spirit of the Renaissance, we held a informal multidisciplinary mini-symposium to celebrate life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci by and for NOVA faculty and students, with art, music, food, and a variety of talks ranging from Leonardo’s expertise in human anatomy and mathematics to his role as a master organizer of court extravaganzas and flamboyant outfit designer. For the entire lineup of the presentations, please see the NOVA Science Seminar Calendar.

Learning to Walk… Again

Dr. Peter Jo, a professor of Anatomy and Physiology at NOVA’s Annandale campus, shared his dissertation research on the recovery of motor control in patients who suffered from stroke. To a packed crowd of faculty and students, he established a strong case of the inadequacy of current rehabilitation techniques to account for all the complexities of the recovery process that involves not only mere regaining of muscle strength but a fine re-tuning of the nerve system circuitry. Peter’s research on the variability of movement in patients suggests that the potential for rehabilitation may be higher than currently thought, contributing to changing views in rehabilitation science.


On Friday, November 15, Dr. Karin Kiontke, of New York University, discussed the molecular basis of the transition from a larval stage into an adult stage in a one-millimeter long round work, Caenorhabditis elegans. The onset of this critical developmental right of passage, referred to as puberty in our own species, involves the use of a large RNA molecule that acts a scaffold for the interaction of proteins involved in regulation of the transition. This role of non-transcribed large RNA molecule is novel, greatly expanding our understanding of the function of RNAs far beyond their roles as messages in protein synthesis as described by the classic “central dogma” of molecular biology.

Lord of the Flies

Last Thursday, March 28, Dr. Torsten Dikow, en entomologist from the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), shared his love for flies and research on their taxonomy with NOVA faculty and students. In the spirit of early explorers, Torsten recounted his expeditions to different parts of the world, most notably, to Namibia in Africa, and the fascinated world of these seemingly unassuming creatures. Much of the presentation was illustrated by Torsten’s own photographs of flies in their natural habitats. In addition to his research on species discovery, Torsten shared his view on and recent technological advances in cybertaxonomy, an emergent e-science making biodiversity research data freely accessible to anyone.

150 Years of the Periodic Table–Time to Celebrate!

Starting with delightful snacks and the chemical party dance, our celebration of the 150th anniversary of Dmitry Mendeleev‘s publication of the periodic table proceeded with four informative (and equally entertaining) presentations by NOVA faculty. Mihaela Chamberlin gave an overview of the periodic table and reviewed the current hypothesis of the origin of chemical substances. Ritu Kansal presented a court case against the defendant, lead (Pb), portrayed by Piraba Swaminathan, who effectively defended Pb’s good name by showing that, despite its toxicity, lead is an essential element in many medical and industrial applications. In true Valentine’s Day spirit, Bath Schomber discussed the elements that can kills you (and were staple ingredients of poisons throughout centuries). Moving to modern cutting-edge science, Katie Geiser-Bush shared contemporary research on the most recently discovered elements.

Night of Science!

On December 19th, NOVA Annandale

hosted its third K-12 Night of Science Community event.  One hundred seventy-five families came out to play with rocks, experiment with the laws of physics, make elephant toothpaste, build human bodies and so much more!  The faculty and staff had a great time hosting.  We appreciate everyone taking the time to come out and spend the evening with us.  We hope everyone had a great time.

Please feel free to leave a comment.


What future holds for… as seen from outer space

How would an alien scientist recognize life–including signs of intelligence–if they observed our planet from afar? Posing this question at the start of his talk, an expert astrobiologist and an award-winning author, Dr. Grinspoon, discussed how fundamentally was our planet changed by the emergence of life and how even more profoundly it has been altered in recent times by a single species, Homo sapiens. The anthropocene, the new geological age defined by the collective human activity, while threatening our own existence, holds the promise for the solutions to current environmental crisis we inadvertently have created. Attended by over 90 students and faculty, thought-provoking and inspiring, the talk stirred a lively discussion of our possible futures.

How I Befriended a Vampire

On Friday, March 30, Katharina Dittmar (National Science Foundation) discussed her research on co-evolution of blood-thirsty bats, their blood-feeding parasites, and the zoo of microbial symbionts. Integrating molecular genetics, population biology, and systematics, Dr. Dittmar presented an integrative approach to understanding he evolution of complex ecological interactions and its implications for global health across the scale of biological systems, from molecules to ecosystems.

Fossil Fuel: from Paleozoic Past to Geopolitical Present

Oil and gas are some of the most important commodities affecting global market and geopolitical balance today. Despite economic benefits, the exploration of the fossil fuel reserves, their processing, transport, and use have a tremendous impact on the environment and human health on the planetary scale. These resources are finite and non-renewable, with their origin, composition, and distribution resulting from an eon-long geological history. This week’s speaker, Dr. Paul H. Nadeau, a professor of University of Stavanger, Norway, will discuss the way the geological past processes produced the present-day distribution of oil and gas with the glimpse into their significance in the future, with special references to the United States.