Impact of the Arizona NExSS Winter School on Astrobiology Knowledge and Attitudes

Michael Burnam-Fink, Steven J. Desch, Daniella Scalice, Hilarie Davis, Cierra J. Huff, Daniel Apai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Astrobiology is an inherently interdisciplinary area of study, demanding communication across multiple fields: astronomy, geochemistry, planetary science, and so on. Successful communication requires that researchers be aware of the basic findings, open questions, and tools and techniques of allied fields and possess an appreciation and respect for what these fields consider good science. To facilitate this communication between early-career researchers, the Arizona NExSS Winter School was hosted in February 2016, bringing together graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from backgrounds spanning the field of astrobiology. Students virtually attended a scientific Workshop Without Walls and participated in lectures, discussions, field trips, and hands-on activities, culminating in the writing and review of mock proposals by interdisciplinary teams. We assess the impact of the school on interdisciplinarity using a pre- and posttest survey of 24 students, informed by National Science Foundation impact categories (Friedman et al., 2008) within the Impact Analysis Method (IAM) described by Davis and Scalice (2015). We demonstrate that students gained knowledge, especially in fields outside their home discipline. Furthermore, an underlying disciplinary divide between geochemists and planetary scientists on the role of life in planetary evolution is observed and interpreted. These findings demonstrate that the Arizona NExSS Winter School had measurable impact on interdisciplinarity and that the IAM rubric has utility in measuring impact. We make recommendations for further research to understand the interdisciplinary gaps in astrobiology and how best to bridge them. Key Words: Interdisciplinarity - Attitudes - Knowledge - Scientific dialogue - Training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-375
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Attitudes
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Knowledge
  • Scientific dialogue
  • Training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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