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University Bulletin

Graduate Degree Programs

Astrobiology (ABIOL)

JAMES F. KASTING, Program Coordinator
2217 Earth and Engineering Sciences Building
814-863-8761; Astrobiology Research Center

Degree Conferred

Students electing this degree program through participating programs earn a degree with a dual title in the Ph.D., i.e., Ph.D. in (graduate program name) and Astrobiology.

The following graduate programs offer dual degrees in Astrobiology: Astronomy and Astrophysics; Biology; Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology; Geosciences; and Meteorology.

The Graduate Faculty

  • Michael A. Arthur, Ph.D. (Princeton) Professor of Geosciences
  • Susan L. Brantley, Ph.D. (Princeton) Professor of Geosciences; Director, Earth and Environmental Sytems Institute
  • Jean E. Brenchley, Ph.D. (California, Davis) Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Donald A. Bryant, Ph.D. (UCLA) Ernest C. Pollard Professor in Biotechnology; Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Albert Welford Castleman, Jr., Ph.D. (Polytechnic Inst of Brooklyn) Eberly Distinguished Chair in Science; Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry
  • Matthew Fantle, Ph.D. (California, Berkeley) Assistant Professor of Geosciences
  • James G. Ferry, Ph.D. (Illinois) Stanley Person Professor of Molecular Biology
  • Katherine H. Freeman, Ph.D. (Indiana) Professor of Geosciences
  • S. Blair Hedges, Ph.D. (Maryland) Professor of Biology
  • Christopher H. House, Ph.D. (California) Associate Professor of Geosciences; Director, Penn State Astrobiology Research Center
  • James F. Kasting, Ph.D. (Michigan) Distinguished Professor of Geosciences
  • Lee R. Kump, Ph.D. (South Florida) Professor of Geosciences
  • Jennifer Macalady, Ph.D. (California, Davis) Associate Professor of Geosciences
  • Suvrath Mahadevan, Ph.D. (Penn State) Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Hiroshi Ohmoto, Ph.D. (Princeton) Professor of Geochemistry
  • Mark E. Patzkowsky, Ph.D. (Chicago) Professor of Geosciences
  • Beth Shapiro, Ph.D. (Oxford) Assistant Professor of Biology
  • Steinn Sigurdsson, Ph.D. (Cal Tech) Associate Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Aleksander Wolszczan, Ph.D. (Copernicus U, Poland) Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Jason Wright, Ph.D. (California, Berkeley) Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics

The Astrobiology dual-title degree program is administered by the Department of Geosciences for the participating graduate programs. A program committee with representatives from each participating department maintains program definition, defines the nature of the candidacy examination and assigns the examining committee, identifies courses appropriate to the program, and recommends policy and procedures for the program's operation to the dean of the Graduate School and to the deans of the participating colleges. The dual-title degree program is offered through participating programs in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and the Eberly College of Science and, where appropriate, other graduate programs in the University. The program enables students from several graduate programs to gain the perspectives, techniques, and methodologies of Astrobiology, while maintaining a close association with major program areas of application.

Astrobiology is a field devoted to the exploration of life outside of Earth and to the investigation of the origin and early evolution of life on Earth. For admission to pursue a dual-title degree under this program, a student must apply to (1) the Graduate School; (2) one of the participating major graduate programs; and (3) the Astrobiology program committee. Usually students will apply and be accepted into the major program first. Application to the dual-title degree program can occur upon matriculation, but should be completed before the candidacy examination in the major program is scheduled.

Admission Requirements

Graduate students with research and educational interests in astrobiology may apply to the Astrobiology Dual-Title Degree Program. Candidates must submit transcripts of their undergraduate and graduate course work, a written personal statement indicating the career goals they hope to serve by attaining an Astrobiology dual title, and a statement of support from their dissertation adviser. A strong undergraduate preparation in the basic sciences is expected, with evidence of an interest in multiple disciplines.

Degree Requirements

To qualify for a dual-title degree, students must satisfy the requirements of the major graduate program in which they are enrolled, in addition to the minimum requirements of the Astrobiology program. The minimum course requirements for the dual-title in Astrobiology are ABIOL 574 Planetary Habitability (3 credits), ABIOL 590 Astrobiology Seminar (2 credits), ABIOL 570 Astrobiology Field Experience (2 credits), and at least 2 credits of 400- or 500-level course work outside of the student's major program in an area relevant to Astrobiology (through consultation with their adviser). All students must pass a candidacy examination that assesses their potential in the field of astrobiology. This examination may be part of the candidacy examination in the student's major graduate program if an Astrobiology faculty member serves on the examination committee and if acceptable to the major program. If not, the Astrobiology dual-title program will offer a second candidacy examination. The structure and timing of the second candidacy examination will be determined jointly by the dual-title and major program. The student's doctoral committee should include faculty from the Astrobiology program, but this person may be the adviser and have an appointment in the major program of study. The field of Astrobiology should be integrated into the comprehensive examination. A Ph.D. dissertation that contributes fundamentally to the field of Astrobiology is required. A public oral presentation of the dissertation is required.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is generally available through the major program and through highly competitive University Graduate Fellowships (UGF). In addition, Penn State's Astrobiology Research Center (PSARC) provides support for students through research assistantships and graduate fellowships. Typically, students in Astrobiology are supported 12 months per year on some form of assistantship, fellowship, or summer wages provided by PSARC, UGF, or their home department.

Other Relevant Information

Students intrigued by the possibility of pursuing research in Astrobiology should visit the PSARC website and the NASA Astrobiology Institute website.


Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 599 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.




Last Revised by the Department: Fall Semester 2004

Blue Sheet Item #: 32-04-078

Review Date: 11/22/04

Updated by Publications: 12/22/11