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AbGradE Committee

Please be aware that there are currently fake emails purporting to come from the EANA president, EANA treasurer, or an AbGradE committee member. These people will never ask you for help in a financial situation or to buy gift cards for them.

AbGradE was conceptualized over a few drinks and food at the conference dinner of the 13th EANA meeting in July 2013, in Szczecin, Poland. The AbGradE committee organizes annual events before the EANA conference, and has a representative on the EANA council.

President and representative on the EANA-council:
Ruth-Sophie Taubner, Austria, ruth-sophie.taubner (at)

Vice Presidents:
Mickael Baqué, Germany, mickael.baque (at)
Philippe Nauny, UK, p.nauny.1 (at)

Marta Filipa Cortesão, Germany, marta.cortesao (at)

Petra Schwendner, Florida, petra.schwendner (at)

Athanasios Papadopoulos, Germany, Athanasios.Papadopoulos (at)
Alex Price, UK, alex.price (at)

The list of current members is (sorted by last name):
Mickael Baqué
I obtained my PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Rome "Tor Vergata" focusing on the desert cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis as a model organism in two space experiments BOSS and BIOMEX. And I am now pursuing my involvement in BIOMEX at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin to answer astrobiological questions related to the limits of life on Earth and its possibility elsewhere in the Solar System, especially Mars (e.g. by assessing biosignatures degradation in space and Martian simulated environments).
Marta Filipa Cortesão
I did my Masters in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Porto, and had the pleasure to do my master thesis on UV-resistance genes at the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid. I am now a PhD student at Space Microbiology research group at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne, working on the adaptation of Fungi to space conditions and their biotechnological potential for space applications. Besides Astrobiology, I love travelling, and I am passionate about education and science outreach!
Niloofar Feshangsaz
I received my Master's degree in biophysics with a focus on extreme halophiles under simulated space conditions and currently PhD student at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. I am working in systems bioinformatics lab. My research focus is on the fundamental understanding of composition, structure, function, dynamics and metabolisms of psychrophilic consortium.
Bjarke Haldrup
I recently graduated from my master's in molecular and medical biology at Roskilde University in Denmark. My Thesis focused on the Phylum Tardigrada (Tardigrades/Water Bears), which may serve as a model organism in Astrobiology with respect to complex multicellular eukaryotes -- complimentary to the microbes that are typically used. Specifically, I studied how the tardigrades tolerance to extreme conditions affected their metabolism and what this suggests for the underlying molecular mechanisms present in the animal, which may be effective for protecting such life from stress factors beyond Earth. I am currently looking for a suitable Ph. D position. Hope to see you at the next AbGradE event!
Keyron Hickman-Lewis
Having read for a degree in Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, I am presently studying for a Ph.D. in co-tutelle between the CNRS Orléans and the Università di Bologna. I am a microbial palaeontologist, and my research interests include applying high-resolution correlative microscopy to fossils of the earliest traces of life on Earth, decoding their palaeoenvironmental settings and biogeochemical landscapes using a number of techniques. I am also interested in the reconstruction of fossil cellular material in three dimensions as a means of providing philosophically unambiguous morphological criteria for biogenicity. Outside of the lab, my main interests are the history, performance and theory of contemporary classical music, the history of art, and my eternal quest to find well-balanced whole-leaf teas.
Nina Kopacz
I am a PhD student at the Department of Earth Science of Utrecht University. I work on characterizing the organic carbon content of rocky bodies in our Solar System, such as meteorites, Mars, asteroids and comets. To do so I perform laboratory experiments using simulation chambers aimed at reproducing these environments. I hope that these experiments, along with data from astronomical observations, will help to better understand the distribution of organic content and guide our instrumentation choices in space missions aimed at its detection.
I am also part of the PELE team (Planetary Analogs & Exobiology Lava Tube expedition), which investigates lava tubes as analog sites to possible strongholds of life on Mars.
Djordje Markovic
I graduated from the University of Belgrade, where I got my Masters degree in Biophysics with focus on bioinformatics. Afterwards, I decided to pursue my place in the astrobiological community and enrolled Masters studies in Astronomy, with a thesis addressing the probability of lithopanspermia on habitable exoplanets. Still, I consider myself a biologist and am currently looking for a suitable PhD position. My interests are biospeleology, deep subsurface environments and handcrafted jewelry.
Philippe Nauny
After obtaining a joint M. Sc. in Chemistry and Biology in Strasbourg (France), I worked a few years as a research assistant. Interested in space exploration, the origin of life, and evolution, I started -- and recently completed -- an astrobiology-oriented Ph. D. in Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom), mainly studying biomarkers in Chilean and Icelandic environmental analogues for Mars. Besides my research project I have a personal interest for meteorites and the history of science; I am also a keen modern board games player and a Star Trek enthusiast.
Claudia Pacelli
I am a postdoctoral fellow at University of Tuscia where I focus mainly on understanding the stability or degradation of biomarkers from Antarctic fungal community that grow inside the rocks. During my PhD, I investigated the effects of space environment, including radiation, on a cryptoendolithic black fungus isolated from Dry Valley in Antarctica. I am also particularly interested in extreme environments, especially Antarctica and Atacama desert. In my free time I love travelling, play volleyball and hiking. I hope to see you at AbGrade events!
Hayk Palabikyan
I am a Master student at tht Division of Archaea Biology and Ecogenomics at the University of Vienna. I am mainly interested in methanogenic Archaea, as they are thought to be among the first organisms on Earth. Furthermore, due to their unique physiology and cellular structure, they are able not only to survive, but also to strive under extreme conditions, which are present in extraterrestrial environments. By studying the molecular biology of this exciting group of organisms, I hope to utilize their metabolic capacity for biotechnological processes, which may one day be part of life support systems in missions outside of the planet Earth.
Carl Sagan, Kathleen Rubins and last but not least Ruth were the people, who inspired me for astrobiology. "It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience." Let's not forget that our planet is the only home we will ever have.
In my free time I climb and like every Hayk, I hike. I am looking forward to meeting you at the next AbGrade!
Silvana Pinna
I am a PhD student working on the Origins of Life at University College London (UCL, London UK), where I also attained an MRes in Biochemistry. My project focuses on investigating the primordial emergence of ATP, the "universal energy currency" of the cell, via substrate-level phosphorylation by the small prebiotically plausible molecule acetyl phosphate, in the setting of alkaline hydrothermal vents. Specifically, I am testing how ATP synthesis can be enhanced through catalysis by several geochemically plausible factors. My first experience with Astrobiology was a summer internship at the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid, where I was testing an instrument for biosignature detection for a possible application on the Martian soil. My other interests include going to the theatre, singing and travelling!
Alex Price
I am currently studying for my PhD at The Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. My research focuses on microbial metabolisms which would be viable in past and present martian environments. I am currently working with anaerobic nitrate-dependent iron-oxidising bacteria, which may have suited the anoxic sediments of early martian lakes. I did my Masters in microbiology at Bergen University, Norway, on endolithic communities in Antarctic gypsum samples. Come and say “Hi” at the next AbGradE!
Petra Schwendner
I received my PhD in the fascinating field of microbiology focusing on microbial diversity of extreme environments. Since 2014, I have been involved in the MASE (Mars Analogues for Space Exploration) project working at the University of Edinburgh and recently moved on to study hypobarophiles at the Space Life Sciences Lab in Florida. I am looking forward to meeting you at AbGradE.
Hector-Andreas Stavrakakis
I am currently an undergraduate on my 5th and final year, studying at the National Technical University of Athens, School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering. My research interests include space technologies and sciences with participation in various projects. As a main project, I investigate the use of electrokinetics for the production of the essentials in energy and habitability in the frame of a future Mars Manned Mission, but also for other space missions. The main goal is to extract water from the Martian Soil and hydrolyze it to produce hydrogen for energy and oxygen for respiration. My other interests include board games, traveling and doing sports.
Ruth-Sophie Taubner
I obtained my PhD at the University of Vienna in Astronomy working on the habitability of Enceladus' potential subsurface water reservoir. This thesis was very interdisciplinary, including calculations about the inner structure of Enceladus, assumptions about the chemistry going on in this icy moon, and a lot of experimental microbiological work in the laboratory. In my spare time I enjoy to do sports, like playing tennis or soccer, hiking, mountain biking, or running.
Fanny Vazart
After a Master's degree in organic chemistry with a specialization in quantum computations in Rennes (France), I continued with a PhD in computational chemistry at the SNS di Pisa. During this PhD, I had the opportunity to start working on reactivity in space, and more particularly on the gas-phase formation of several molecules of prebiotic interest. I am currently a Post-Doc at the institute of planetology and astrophysics of Grenoble (IPAG), where I belong to a project entitled "Dawn on Organic Chemistry" that focuses on detection and possible formations of interstellar complex organic molecules in star forming regions.

Former AbGradE committee members: