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European Astrobiology Campus
Start date: Sep 1, 2014, End date: Aug 31, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Astrobiology is a fairly new, but rapidly growing branch of science. It is not only of great interest to the scientific community, but also captures the attention of the general public to a large extent. Important astrobiological themes like the origin of life on Earth and the possibility of life on other planets have engaged thinkers at least since antiquity and will not be solved by one single discipline alone. To educate a new generation of scientists with the necessary multidisciplinary background to get new insights into these important questions, we propose the creation of a European Astrobiology Campus (EAC) under an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership. In this virtual campus (which will not be a formal administrative entity) 10 European academic institutions and 2 non-academic entities that have previously been engaged in astrobiology research and possess ample experience in interdisciplinary training will cooperate to offer comprehensive, high-level training in astrobiology for a new generation of scientists capable to work beyond the boundaries of their own discipline. A varied range of activities are planned by the EAC. The EAC will offer a series of high-level courses about exciting interdisciplinary subjects covering the whole range of astrobiology, spanning from formation of habitable planets to the search for biosignatures on other celestial bodies. Also an introductory course for interested newcomers and a scientific summer camp for undergraduates will be offered. Novel tools like e-learning and training software will be used in these events. Furthermore, they will include scientific fieldwork at astrobiologically interested sites and other research projects like astronomical observations. This comprehensive course programme will be unique in the world and would be impossible to be organised by a single institution. It will also establish Europe as the leading training area in astrobiology, which will consequently attract top students from all over the world, binging about a “brain gain” for the European Research Area. However, training students in scientific skills is not sufficient to prepare them for an increasingly competitive European labour market. The Strategic Partnership therefore also will offer extensive training in transversal skills in cooperation with our non-academic partners, the scientific consulting company Innovaxiom and the science exhibition and communication centre Cap Sciences. During an internship at Innovaxiom students will be able to learn important capabilities like management, desiging successful (business) strategies, event preparation, public relations, production of promotional material, decision making and customer relations. Together with Cap Science, students will have the possibility to prepare an exhibition on an important astrobiological subject. These two collaborations will give students also an inside view of important employers of scientists with a multidisciplinary background: museums and consultants. In addition, the training efforts of the partnership will not be restricted to university students. It is equally important to train the lecturers to enable them to hold high-quality astrobiology courses and to overcome the difficulties in multidisciplinary teaching. The partnership will organise a workshop on education in astrobiology to allow lecturers to exchange experiences and to present novel course organisation teaching and assessment methods. A learning software package on the subject of the origin of life for use in high schools will be designed and textbooks both for school and university students are planned to be composed. Furthermore, the partnership will continue with a new edition of the Encyclopaedia of Astrobiology, the major reference work in the field, which will be ready at the end of the grant period. The partnership will also launch activities aimed for the general public. An instructive pathway “TimeTrek” covering the history of the Universe from Big Bang and an exhibition “River of Time” depicting the evolution of life on earth will be organised in several countries. Also the above-mentioned exhibition designed by students in cooperation with Cap Sciences will be translated and shown in many countries, thus increasing public awareness of atrobiology. Furthermore, the EAC will act as a communication and dissemination platform for astrobiology. Seminars by leading scientists on important new findings of astrobiological relevance will be organised and webcasted. Students will also have the possibility to present their own research finding at a special conference in astrobiology which will be organised and carried out by students and early career researchers. The proposed EAC will constitute a novel, cooperative approach to train the future generation of European Astrobiologists. It will also deliver valuable experiences in multidisciplinary training that can subsequently be used in other field.
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