At NASA I worked with Dr. Smith on a project called Exposing Microorganisms in the Stratosphere. It is a large scientific balloon payload that flies out of McMurdo Station in Antarctica and exposes microbial samples to stratospheric conditions. The stratosphere is cold, dry, low-pressure, and bathed in radiation. This makes it an exemplary analog to the conditions one encounters on the Martian surface. We were curious how various bacteria and yeast fare in these conditions. When spacecraft go to Mars, they inevitably carry bacteria with them. If we are searching for life, we want to know that what we find is in fact Martian life and not stowaways from Earth. By flying microbes into the stratosphere, we can begin to understand if and how these microbes survive in such an extreme environment. For my doctorate, I pivoted from life up high, being blasted with the Sun’s rays, to life in the dark subsurface. It’s a bit funny to think that I’ve taken a complete 180-degree turn in my study system, but the themes are broadly similar. In 99% of microbiology experiments, life moves fast. E. coli, everyone’s favorite bacterium, reproduces itself every 30 minutes. In both the stratosphere and subsurface systems, I try to understand how life operates slowly – either because it is being slowed by stressors (like UV radiation) or by nutrient limitation. I’ve just started my degree work, so I will have to update you in a few years!