Niraja_Bapat_2018 Graduate Student
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research – Pune

Niraja V. Bapat is a graduate student in the Chemical Origins Of Life (COoL) Laboratory of Sudha Rajamani at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research – Pune (IISER-Pune). Niraja has a litany of professional accomplishments including publications and presentations, but perhaps more significantly, she has been involved in many outreach activities related to public science and astrobiology education in India. The astrobiology research community in India is virtually non-existent, with the COoL lab at IISER-Pune being one of only a few research groups actively participating in astrobiology research. As such, there is very little public awareness of or interest in astrobiology within India. Niraja has participated in a previous NASA Spaceward Bound expedition to Ladakh, India, a remote region where the extreme environment may be key in understanding how early life emerged and evolved. This program, as well as a future planned expedition, connects astrobiology researchers from around the world with local researchers in India, helping to increase knowledge of astrobiology within the Indian scientific community. Such an expedition also introduces the local population in Ladakh, who may not know the scientific importance of their home, to ways in which their home region is able to contribute to scientific understanding about their own origins. Niraja has also contributed a popular magazine article about the origin of life and astrobiology to “iWonder”, an Indian science education magazine for middle school teachers. By informing school teachers about exciting new research in astrobiology, there is a hope that they can in turn instill their own interest and excitement to the young students who will be the next generation of researchers. Finally, Niraja is a regular contributor and editor for “Think Science”, a general science magazine for elementary school students. India is a country where often education is stressed, but not everyone has equal access to such education. Niraja’s endeavor in working with “Think Science” seeks to make science more accessible to a wider population of youth in India.

Thus, through various important science education outreach activities in India, we believe that Niraja has contributed greatly to the visibility and understanding of astrobiology within India, soon to be the World’s most populous country. Hopefully by instilling the curiosity of our own life’s origins and the possibility of life elsewhere within the general population, and especially the youth, of India, astrobiology interest and research can start to grow