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Program The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation

About the Program

The NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation represents an opportunity for high-level scholarship to understand the interface between human society and the scientific exploration of the cosmos. In the spirit of Barry Blumberg, whose life and work spanned multiple disciplines, the Blumberg Program is interested in the concept of exploration broadly defined to include any aspect of space exploration within the parameters of NASA’s mission to “reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.” The program is most interested in proposals that consider the philosophical, humanistic, legal, ethical, and policy dimensions of exploration.

Possibilities for research subjects are many. The following are meant to inspire, not to limit creativity: legal issues related to governance of planets and space; the ethical implications of cross-contamination; scientific and philosophical definitions of life; conceptions of the origins of life in theistic and non-theistic religions; comparison of the discussion of these issues in multiple nations and cultures. The Chair may also consider life’s collective future—for humans and other forms of life, on Earth and beyond, examining the impacts on life and future evolutionary trajectories that may result from both natural events and human-directed activities.

Within the parameters of NASA’s mission, a chair might also seek to investigate how innovative quests for fundamental understanding may lead to major developments for the betterment of society. Barry Blumberg, for whom the Chair is named, conducted groundbreaking research addressing a simple but fundamental question: Why do some people get sick while others, exposed to the same environment, remain healthy? That this work unexpectedly led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus, the development of a vaccine, and the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine illustrates the potential for unconventional thinking about fundamental questions to yield great rewards. Using methodologies from the history and sociology of science, the philosophy of science, legal, political, and cultural history, and other disciplines, a Chair might study and tell the story of how a basic research initiative led to completely unexpected discoveries and applications.

Additionally, the concept of “high risk, high reward research” continues to find traction among a number of US Government agencies and is at the heart of international competition in science. Focusing on projects within the parameters of NASA’s mission, the Chair could also study a “high risk, high reward” initiative from a historical, legal, philosophical, or ethical perspective or one that draws on several disciplinary modes of analysis.

The Chair is in residence at the Kluge Center, in the Library of Congress. The Library is at the heart of serious conversation among scholars and policymakers and the Kluge Center’s distinctive mission is to bridge the gap between scholarship and the policymaking community. As such, the Blumberg Chair holds a highly visible, public role. The Library is particularly interested in scholars who are able and willing to speak beyond their disciplinary home in a way that is accessible and compelling to a broad audience.

The Chair is open to established scholars and leading thinkers in the fields of philosophy, history, religion, astrobiology, astronomy, planetary science, the history of science, paleontology, Earth and atmospheric sciences, geological sciences, ethics, literature, media studies, or other related fields. Check out the current Chairs' podcast "Space on the Page."

Current Chair

Jacob Berkowitz

Jacob Berkowitz is the author of three science-based books, including “The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars” (Prometheus Books, 2012), and a recipient of the American Institute of Physics Book Award. His plays have won multiple Prix Rideau awards, including Outstanding New Creation (2022). Berkowitz writes about the intersection of science, story, and ideas of self, particularly from the vantage point of social and technological change. At the Kluge Center, Berkowitz will work on a biography of Paul W. Merrill, the 20th century American astronomer who discovered our stardust origins.
Berkowitz is recipient of the Paris Prix Audace, as science writer on the documentary film “The Quantum Tamers” (2009), and his media appearances include CBC Quirks and Quarks and NPR’s Science Friday. He has been Journalist-in-Residence at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California, and a Dibner Fellow in the History of Science (Huntington Library, Pasadena, California). He is the long-time Writer-in-Residence at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa. Berkowitz’s reporting and commentary appears in leading Canadian newspapers, including The Globe and Mail.
Founder of Quantum Writing, a boutique science writing agency, Berkowitz has turned complex facts into engaging stories for dozens of science-based organizations across the United States and Canada, from the (U.S.) National Inventors Hall of Fame to Canada’s futurist agency Policy Horizons. His science writing combines deep expertise in multidisciplinary knowledge synthesis, translation, and popularizing.”

View past chairs

The Setting

Uniquely situated for research, analysis, and serious discussion of America’s and the world’s relationship to the earth and the moral and philosophical questions of life in the universe, the Library of Congress offers facilities for scholars, universal collections spanning more than 470 languages, broad language and subject expertise of the Library staff, the central position of the Library on Capitol Hill, and the inspiring atmosphere of the magnificent Thomas Jefferson Building.

Funding

The Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation is made possible through a unique interagency agreement between the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Library of Congress. Established in 2011, the collaboration by NASA and the Library of Congress owes a great deal to the vision of the late Dr. Baruch S. Blumberg, Nobel Prize winner and founding member of the Library’s Scholars Council. Dr. Blumberg served as the founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute in 1999. The funding for the position is provided by NASA, and execution of the agreement is by the Kluge Center in consultation with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Apply to the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation

In order to apply for the Blumberg Chair, we ask for four pieces of information:

  • A complete CV including your contact information and publications.
  • A brief statement of proposed research (up to 1500 words). In your statement, please include one paragraph that explains why the Library of Congress is the appropriate venue for your research and any particular collections you might use.
  • A description of proposed outreach activities (Up to 1000 words).
  • A signed assurance of compliance, found here. Applicants should sign both blocks on the form. The Blumberg Chair is a partnership between the Library of Congress and NASA, and NASA is prohibited from funding work that involves bilateral participation, collaboration, or coordination with China or any Chinese-owned entity, whether funded or performed under a no exchange of funds arrangement. As such, we are unable to accept applications from candidates affiliated with a Chinese-owned entity, which includes Chinese universities and cultural institutions. In addition, applicants cannot hold primary residence in China and chair recipients cannot participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally with China or any Chinese-owned company.

The Chair is in residence at the Kluge Center, in the Library of Congress. The Library is at the heart of serious conversation among scholars and policymakers, and the Kluge Center’s distinctive mission is to bridge the gap between scholarship and the policymaking community. As such, the Blumberg Chair holds a highly visible, public role. The Library is particularly interested in scholars who are able and willing to speak beyond their disciplinary home in a way that is accessible and compelling to a broad audience.

Please note that in addition to the guidelines specific to this chair, the Kluge Center evaluates all applications on the basis of three criteria, which are: intellectual accomplishment, the ability to communicate ideas to a broad audience, and their relevance to the challenges faced by democracies in the 21st century.

Workshop and outreach activities typically fall in two categories. We ask that you propose one of each.

  1. Conversations geared to a generalist, public audience. These could be either recorded conversations or live events. Below are a couple past examples:

    Earthrise: Celebrating the Photograph that Changed (How We View) the World

    Artificial Intelligence in the Search for Life in the Universe

  2. A conference or convening for specialist audiences. These conferences have generally been thematic in nature and have sought to advance the field of astrobiology, exploration, scientific innovation, and related areas by convening experts.

Please include these four components: CV, Statement of Proposed Research, and Description of Proposed Outreach Activities (all in one PDF document) and the assurance of compliance (as a separate PDF) and submit them by email to Sophia Zahner (szah@loc.gov) by October 15, 2023. Selections will be made in spring of 2024 for an appointment beginning October 1, 2024.

Program Details

Research Areas

Research on astrobiology, exploration, and innovation, with emphasis on their societal implications

Eligibility

Open to established scholars worldwide

Stipend

$13,500 per month (up to 12 months)

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Astrobiology on our blog, “Insights”

For More Information

The John W. Kluge Center
Phone: (202) 707-3302
(202) 707-3595
Email: scholarly@loc.gov

For More Information

The John W. Kluge Center
Phone: (202) 707-3302
Email: scholarly@loc.gov