The study of icy habitats on Earth provides important analogs for determining the likelihood of microbial life inextraterrestrial environments. This search for life is a focal point of NASA’s Astrobiology research to answer thequestion if we are alone. Current satellite and lander (robots) missions are unable to detect microorganisms insnow and ice, since microbes are typically 1-2microns in size. Microfabricated sensors can be integrated/placedinside the ice/snow to probe the environment for bio-signatures.The physical dimensions of the active sensorstructure matches microbial dimensions, increasing the likelihood of detecting microbial presence.

Our laboratories work together to investigate a sensor technology that utilizes micro-fabricatedstructures todetect electrical variations in ice and snow, with and without microbial impact. Sensors are fabricated in theMontana Microfabrication Facility and characterized at iCal before they are tested in the Center for BiofilmEngineering. Our interdisciplinary team of biologist, astrobiologists, material scientists, electrical and mechanicalengineers fosters an application driven research program to test our work in laboratory and field settings.Come and join our lab if you are interested in the interface between biology and engineering.

You will learn the following skills:

  • Work and learn in an interdisciplinary team of biologist and engineers
  • Apply scientific methods on application driven research
  • Work in state-of-the-artlaboratories such as theMontana Microfabrication Facilityand theCenter for Biofilm Engineering
  • Develop effective presentation skills
  • Have fun with research that is out of this world!


Illustration of a glacier biome

Sensors fabricated on wafer-level in the MMF

Our research group testing micro-fabricated sensors

The glacier biome, includingsupraglacial, englacial andsubglacial environments..
Sensors fabricated on wafer-level inthe MMF and tested in the Center forBiofilm Engineering in a temperature-controlledstage (-20̊C).
Our research group testing micro-fabricatedsensors in theBeartooth Mountains, WY.

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For more information contact Dr. Christine Foreman or Stephan Warnat.