SoCIA 2016: An Interdisciplinary Workshop on Social and Conceptual Issues in Astrobiology

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Many researchers who study the origins, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe (astrobiology) believe we are on the brink of one of the most important discoveries in human history.   As NASA’s chief scientist recently announced: I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.”  If so, humanity will soon confront a series of complex challenges that cannot be resolved without strong input from disciplines beyond the sciences.  While NASA’s and the nascent European vision for astrobiology are far ranging and include broad questions about the future of life in the universe, these have so far received less attention than they deserve.  SoCIA 2016 is designed to help address this deficit, fostering a wider conversation and perhaps even sowing the seeds for a new academic society.  Some of the questions in need of further exploration include:

  • What is life? 
  • What are our ethical obligations to extraterrestrial life?  To non-living features of extraterrestrial environments?
  • How should we utilize space-based resources and/or colonize space, if at all? 
  • Are there truly universal principles (of biology, psychology, morality, etc.) that might apply to life elsewhere in the universe?
  • What impact would the discovery of extraterrestrial life have on human society?
  • Is astrobiology a science, a proto-science or a speculative enterprise?
  • What can be learned from history concerning the challenges we will face and how best to address them? From literary portrayals?


SoCIA 2016 is an off-year workshop of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) and as such seeks to bring together an group of younger scholars and senior figures in an intense yet informal exchange of ideas - participants will attend all presentations and there will be many opportunities for friendly interaction and discussion.

The workshop is open to any researcher in any discipline interested in applying their expertise to these kinds of broad questions. Those interested should submit abstracts of no more than 400 words to Dr. Kelly Smith (kcs [at ] by June 1st, 2016Graduate students and younger scholars are especially encouraged to submit and support is available to help make their attendance possible.


Keynote Speakers:

Dr. Steven J. Dick is an historian and astronomer, having served as Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress, Lindbergh Chair at the National Air and Space Museum, NASA Chief Historian, and Director of the NASA History Office.  He is a prolific author, with 7 books and 13 edited volumes to his credit, many dealing with these aspects of astrobiology.  His most recent book is The Impact of Discovering Life Beyond Earth (Cambridge, 2016).  


Dr. Sheyna Gifford is a physician and journalist, currently serving as Chief Medical Officer on NASA's Hi SEAS IV project, where she will spend a year living with a small group of researchers simulating an extended mission to Mars.  Dr. Gifford has worked on the HESSI satellite at Space Science Laboratories, helped develop a Mars space suit design with the HEADS-UP Project, and served on the DEEP2 sky survey. She has conducted research in astrophysics, neuroscience and psychology at institutions including Berkeley, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, Brown University, the University of Missouri, and the University of Southern California.


More information about the workshop can be found at

Please direct any and all questions to the local organizer, Dr. Kelly Smith: kcs [at]

Event Date: 
Saturday, September 24, 2016 - 09:00 to Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 18:00
Event Location: 
Clemson, SC, USA
International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB)
Event Category: 

Events Sidebar






CSO Approval date: 14/11/2013
Starting date: 15/05/2014
Ending date: 14/05/2018

Action Chair:
Dr. Muriel GARGAUD (FR)

Vice chair:
Prof. Wolf GEPPERT (SE)

STSM Manager:
Prof. Nigel MASON (UK)

Web Manager:



Grant Holder Financial Representative:

Mrs Annick Caperan

Science Officer:
Dr. Mafalda QUINTAS

Administrative Officer:
Ms Ange Marie Ina Uwase



A Trans-Domain Action supported by COST.

COST is supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020



Involved countries

View the Interactive Map
of Member Countries

Participating Countries
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

COST International Partner Countries
Canada (UQAM), South Africa (Univ. of Johanesburgh), Russian Federation (Institute of Geology, Petrozavodsk), Australia (University of Sydney), United States of America (University of Hawai)

Specific Organisations
European Space Agency (ESA)

Short Term Scientific Missions (STSMs)

Aiming at fostering collaboration, sharing new techniques, and infrastructure that may not be available in other participants' institutions or laboratories. STSMs are intended especially for young PhD researchers, but they are open to senior researchers as well. View the documents at this link.

 It should be explicitely noted that Master students are not eligible for STSMs which are for PhD students and more experienced researchers.

The life-Origins COST Project

Life-ORIGINS (TD1308) is a Trans Domain European COST Action dedicated to the scientific investigation of the origins and evolution of life on Earth and habitability of other planets.

The Action has specifically excluded the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life in its portfolio. Creationist theorems are also outside the Action’s remit.

Individuals are not allowed to use the name of the Action, its logo or any corporate identity of COST TD1308 in any communication without prior approval of the Management Committee.

All publications referencing the support of the Action should be sent to the appropriate Working Group chair at the time of submission.