ESA Brainstorming on Astrobiology

A pilot for a series of open, informal, and multidisciplinary workshops




What? An open, informal, and multidisciplinary workshop on astrobiology, featuring expert discussion as well as public talks.
Who? Uniting ~30 scientists from ESA and the community, including exoplanets, planetary science, and solar/stellar physics.
When? 16 - 20 October 2023.
Where? The European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), Keplerlaan 1, 2201 AZ Noordwijk, The Netherlands. In the "ESCAPE Dance Room" building, which the receptionist will point out to you when you arrive at the main gate.
Why? Fostering collaboration, connecting scientists from ESA and the community with the Zeitgeist of the rapidly growing astrobiology field, brainstorming outside-of-the-box ideas for interdisciplinary approaches, and disseminating our findings via public lectures and a scientific publication. Our vision is to form a diverse group in terms of research expertise, gender, seniority, background, institute country, and professional functionality.

Importantly, there is some commitment requested before and after the event (see below). We planned to select ~15 in-person applicants from the community but due to a very high number of applications, we were able to increase the scope and now also offer a limited remote attendance option. Travel grants for all participants will be provided (up to 1000 Euro; exceptions may be discussed upon request). The deadline for submissions was 15 June 2023 and late-applications cannot be considered. Succesful applicants were contacted and invited shortly after the deadline.


Topical Themes

The topical themes we will address are science-driven: 

  •  Astrobiology science in the frame of Voyage 2050 
  •  Optimising scientific synergies between ESA missions and ground-based facilities for astrobiology 
  •  Seeking astrobiology synergies across the scientific community
  •  Unresolved, fundamental astrobiology research questions which require new ideas


Speaker Commitment

Please note that this is designed to be an interactive "unconference" event with deliverables. We thus expect a certain amount of effort before (e.g., coordinating talks between various speakers for the shared sessions) and after (e.g., contributing to writing a scientific summary addressing the topical themes) the event. This will, of course, not be too much - but the more everyone puts in, the more everyone gets out. See some of the ideas and details in the programme below (team-based preparations and discussions, giving someone else's talk, etc.).


An "Unconferenced" Programme



Keynote talks

Keynote talks (45 min. presentation + 15 min. Q&A) by 1-2 selected, experienced presenters to summarise the field. These talks are foreseen to be live-streamed to the entire ESA Science Faculty and stakeholder community, recorded, and made available on our workshop website.


Topical talks & discussions

A core part of each day will be topical, shared sessions by groups of 2-4 participants under a common idea (per person: 10 min. presentation + 5 min. Q&A). The Daily Theme's Chair will put their groups in contact with each other before the event to coordinate and curate a shared presentation and ideas for discussions. There are no names assigned to talk slots and duration - on purpose. This event will follow a free-flowing format, not a conference format. You will liaise with your Daily Theme's Chair and actively co-design the flow of your session.


Teams Red/Blue/Green/...

To enable smaller breakout discussions, joined preparation, and inter-disciplinary cross-talk, the event will also feature teams, that are randomly mixed. Each team will ideally have a member of each discipline, i.e., 4-5 members in total. The team's primary job is to show their planned presentations to one another before the event (or at the very latest during the coffee breaks the days before). For example, the team should make sure that the exocomet expert understands every single slide in the solar expert's presentation, and so on.

  • All in-person participants are assigned to Teams Red, Blue, Green, or Yellow
  • All remote participants are assigned to Teams Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, and Diamond
  • The organising committee members will roam between all teams

Giving someone else's talk

For those brave enough, we would like to try something quite different. We highly encourage you to swap presentations with one another, and on the day actually give the other person's presentation! Yes, that is right. We would like to see that, for example, an Exocomet experts gives the Solar experts' slides on their behalf in the Friday session. This will demand some preparation and a lot of courage - and perfectly encapsulate the most important concept of this entire event: that we learn to speak each others language of science, and start to communicate and understand the most fundamental concepts in an intuitive way. Again, whether you want to embark on this is fully up to you, and likewise with whom you would want to swap your slides. A good starting point can be an informal discussion in your team, while reviewing (testing) each others presentations.


Free Concept

We will have word clouds / polls / whiteboards etc. throughout the event, so that any sudden ideas, open questions, interesting topics for group discussions can be noted down. It will take a lot of flexibility and free flow, but hopefully it will pay off. We also have an MS Team set up, with a dedicated channel to share any ideas/material/feedback on how to make this "unconference" experience fruitful and successful.


MS Team

We have created an MS Team, to connect all in-person and remote attendees with one another starting the month before the event. All participants have received invitation emails to join. As most communication from here on will happen via this MS Team, please join as soon as possible to not miss out.


Local Information

All in-person attendees are invited to European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), Keplerlaan 1, 2201 AZ Noordwijk, The Netherlands, for the whole week. When you arrive at the main gate, you will need to enter the reception, show your passport/ID, and receive your visitor badge. The receptionist will then point you towards the "ESCAPE Dance Room", which is the building hosting our event, only a 50 meters walk after entering through the main gate.

All in-person attendees received an email with instructions on how to claim the travel grant (reimbursement of up to 1000 Euro). If you have not received these, please contact us immediately.

The scientific programme will begin on Monday morning and end on Friday afternoon, so travelling in on Sunday and out on Friday afternoon will be the most common. Of course, some participants might only be able to travel in on Monday morning and/or will have other connections, so they will only leave on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, there is usually limited availability of budget accommodation in this area of the Netherlands. Some colleagues would recommend staying in Leiden near the train station Leiden Centraal, which is well connected to Amsterdam Schiphol airport (15 min train). Near Leiden Centraal are several large hotels and it is well connected with a frequent 20 min bus (or 20 min cycle) to ESTEC. Many colleagues also recommend staying in Noordwijk, from where you can fetch a 20 min bus (or 20 min cycle) to ESTEC. Another option is Katwijk, about a 10 min bus (or 10 min cycle) to ESTEC. For the specific routes from your accommodation to the ESTEC, we would recommend checking the usual online map services.




In person (alphabetical):

Hervé Cottin (LISA/UPEC, FR) - Team Red
Nicolas Crouzet (Leiden Observatory, NL) - Team Red
Daniela Billi (University of Rome Tor Vergata, IT) - Team Red
Lucas Bourmancé (Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, FR) - Team Red
Jean Pierre Paul de Vera (German Aerospace Center (DLR), DE) - Team Red
Niloofar Feshangsaz (Janssen Biologics, NL) - Team Blue
Bernard Foing (EuroSpaceHub Academy, LUNEX, Leiden Observatory, NL) - Team Blue
Wolf Geppert (Stockholm University, SE)  - Team Yellow
Adrienne Kish (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, FR) - Team Blue
Cara Magnabosco (ETH Zürich, CH) - Team Yellow
Eva Mateo-Marti (Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB) - CSIC/INTA, ES) - Team Green
Johan Mazoyer (LESIA / Observatoire de Paris, FR) - Team Green
Julie Nekola Nováková (Charles University (Prague, CZ) - Team Green
Isabella Pagano (INAF - Osservatorio Astrofisico di Catania, IT) - Team Green
Iratxe Población (University of the Basque Country, ES) - Team Green
Don Pollacco (University of Warwick, UK) - Team Blue
Sascha Quanz (ETH Zürich, CH) - Team Yellow
Sudeshna Boro Saikia (University of Vienna, AT) - Team Yellow 
Ruth-Sophie Taubner (Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, AT) - Team Blue 
Frances Westall (CNRS-Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire, FR) - Team Yellow 

Remote (alphabetical):

Mickael Baqué (German Aerospace Center (DLR), DE) - Team Ruby
Adriana Blachowicz (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, US) - Team Ruby
Sarah Casewell (University of Leicester, UK) - Team Ruby
Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh, UK) - Team Ruby
Marta Cortesao (German Aerospace Center (DLR), DE) - Team Ruby
Rosa de la Torre Noetzel (Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial INTA, ES) - Team Sapphire
Dimitra Demertzi (Radboud University, NL) - Team Sapphire
Andreas Elsaesser (Freie Universitaet Berlin, DE) - Team Sapphire
Ligia Fonseca Coelho (Cornell University, US) - Team Sapphire
Taras Gerya (ETH Zürich, CH) - Team Sapphire
John Lee Grenfell (German Aerospace Center (DLR), DE) - Team Emerald
Nader Haghighipour (University of Hawaii and Planetary Science Institute, US) - Team Emerald
J G Gokula Krishnan (Anna University, India) - Team Emerald
Jorge Lillo-Box (Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB) - CSIC/INTA, ES) - Team Emerald
Arturo Lira Barria (KU Leuven, BE) - Team Emerald
Zita Martins (Instituto Superior Tecnico, PT) - Team Emerald
Afonso Mota (German Aerospace Center (DLR), DE) - Team Diamond
Hugo Moors (SCK CEN, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, BE) - Team Diamond
Rosa Santomartino (UK Centre for Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh, UK) - Team Diamond
Gwenael Van Looveren (University of Vienna, AT) - Team Diamond 
Vassilissa Vinogradoff (CNRS, Aix-Marseille Université, FR) - Team Diamond 

Organising Committee

Mariasole Agazzi1
Nicol Caplin1
Quentin Changeat3
Willi Exner1
Salma Fahmy1
Maximilian N. Günther1 (Chair)
Laura Hayes1
Ana Heras1
Gaitee Hussain1
Markus Kissler-Patig2
Theresa Lüftinger1
Bruno Merín2
Daniel Pardekooper1
Isabel Rebollido Vázquez4
Emily Rickman3
Elliot Sefton-Nash1
Jorge Vago1
Olivier Witasse1





Please contact esa-brainstorming at or any individual member with any and all questions, and we will be happy to help.