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Alternative Chemistries of Life – Empirical Approaches

Developing the Complete Mind and Searching for Life beyond Earth

Grand challenges and life beyond earth: these are just a couple of the things returning fellow Jay Goodwin, 2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow at NSF, has been thinking about.

Written with David G. Lynn, “Holistic Education in Times of Specialization and Globalization” highlights the need to address grand challenges – from socioeconomic equity to climate change – through broader participation in STEM education and research. By increasing the adoption of integrative, systems-type thinking, we can drive innovative approaches to these challenges: we should develop the “complete mind” among citizens of the world. Goodwin and Lynn present examples of integrating pedagogical innovations in STEM with the arts to develop critical, integrative problem-solving.

“These grand challenges along with the big questions of science involve multiple precipitating events, which radiate outwards in their causal implications, creating rippling effects in often unforeseen and highly complex ways. Comprehending and addressing such complexity more consistently will be an outcome of integrating “art as a way of knowing,” and science as a way of understanding,” said Goodwin.

An NSF and NASA-sponsored report, “Alternative Chemistries of Life – Empirical Approaches,” was also co-authored by Goodwin and Lynn. The report organizes and connects the diverse research directions addressing the potential for alternative forms of life on Earth and how these life forms can inform the search for life elsewhere. One implication for science and technology policy is the globalization of scientific research – in large part due to the growing awareness of the interconnectedness of biological, geological, chemical, and environmental systems. This highlights the need to broaden research networks across multiple disciplines in order to take on new research directions.

Many of the report findings will be presented at a symposium, “Searching for Alternative Chemistries of Life on Earth and Throughout the Universe,” at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February 2015.