Research Interests: Geomicrobiology of sulfate-reducing microorganisms; Biotic and abiotic fractionation of sulfur isotopes in modern and ancient oceans and lakes; Influence of wildfire on carbon isotopic excursions during the Cretaceous; Fate of complex organic molecules on the surface of Mars
Lisa Pratt, Provost Professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is now the planetary protection officer at NASA. The position is responsible for the protection of Earth from potential contamination by extraterrestrial life forms, including potential microorganisms that could live in the ice or groundwater of Mars, as well as preventing accidental transportation of Earth's microbes to other planets through exploratory probes -- or the boots of astronauts.
"I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to the mission of planetary protection at a defining moment in human evolution and the advancement of science," said Pratt, who also serves as associate executive dean in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. "We are on the verge of becoming a spacefaring species, and I feel privileged to be invited into an extraordinary conversation, pushing the frontiers of science, exploration and discovery at NASA. This position plays a direct role in seeking evidence to address a profound question: Are we alone?"
The position of planetary protection officer, within NASA's Safety and Mission Assurance Technical Authority, serves as a contact point between NASA and international groups such as the Committee on Space Research on issues related to planetary protection, as well as the development and implementation of planetary protection policies within the agency.
"NASA, along with the National Science Foundation, has supported Lisa's work on biogeochemical research on microbial transformation of simple inorganic molecules for the past two decades," said Frank Groen, director of the safety assurance requirements division of NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. "As NASA's planetary protection officer, she will be responsible for the leadership of NASA's planetary protection capability, maintenance of planetary protection policies and oversight of their implementation by NASA's space flight missions."
Pratt has been a member of the IU faculty since 1987, where her research focuses on understanding how microorganisms adapt to extreme environments. This requires the in-person collection of pristine samples from poisonous-gas-filled waters in extremely hot and cold environments.