Geosciences professor appointed director of Penn State’s consortium of planetary sciences

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania – Christopher House, professor of geosciences, will serve as director of the Consortium for Planetary and Exoplanetary Sciences and Technology (CPEST) in Penn State, beginning July 1.

Founded in 2020, the consortium unites Penn State scientists and engineers who study how planets form, evolve and become habitable and work to detect and potentially explore these worlds.

“CPEST was established to harness the University’s outstanding strengths in exoplanets and astrobiology and to grow our research leadership in the emerging field of planetary systems science,” said Lora Weiss, senior vice president for research. . “Penn State scientists and engineers are already active in planetary scientific research, and CPEST’s role will enhance collaboration between our faculty, enabling them to pursue further opportunities.”

House studies biogeochemistry, geobiology, the origin of life and planetary sciences. He is director of NASA’s Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium and former director of the Astrobiology Research Center.

He is also responsible for the science theme of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover mission, led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Several times a month, he leads the team tasked with planning the rover’s daily science activities on the red planet.

“This consortium is a tremendous opportunity for Penn State – with its rich history in astrobiology – as a basis for further expanding our involvement in planetary science,” said House. “And this comes at a time when many exciting space missions are being developed and executed.”

“I am very excited that Chris will lead CPEST,” said Sven Bilén, professor of engineering design, electrical engineering and aerospace engineering. “I have worked with Chris for many years and have always found him a strong proponent of space research at Penn State. He is particularly passionate about training the next generation of space scientists and engineers. This defense will position CPEST for success. “

House succeeds James Kasting, a professor of geosciences at Evan Pugh University and the consortium’s inaugural director, who is retiring after nearly 35 years at Penn State.

“Jim is a huge part of the astrobiology field,” House said. “His work on how planets change over time and sometimes go from habitable to uninhabitable played a pivotal role in our quest for life in the cosmos. And it was instrumental in bringing the people together and starting this consortium at Penn State. ”

Kasting received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and two masters and his doctorate from the University of Michigan. He arrived at Penn State in 1988 and began a career studying planetary habitability and evaluating habitable areas around the stars. In 2018 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Professor Kasting’s impact on our understanding of exoplanets and habitability is hard to overestimate,” said Jason Wright, professor of astronomy and astrophysics. “He defined the ‘habitable zone’, one of the fundamental concepts in astrobiology, and helped build the essential bridge between exoplanetary astrophysics and planetary science that covers CPEST. Penn State was fortunate to have her experience and expertise and her vision that helped make CPEST a reality. “

The consortium connects researchers and students from Eberly College of Science, College of Engineering, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Materials Research Institute and Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and provides an administrative headquarters for planetary science.

It houses five centers: the Astrobiology Research Center, the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center, the Center for Space Research Programs, and the Planetary System Science Center.

The consortium is designed to enable interdisciplinary research and help scientists obtain funding amid a recent boom in space exploration projects from private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, and NASA missions.

“I think Penn State has a bigger role to play with our current scientific and engineering expertise in the topics that enable the development and execution of exciting space missions,” said House. “This is a very exciting time for space exploration and for Penn State.”

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