Luoth Chou

Luoth Chou

  • POSTDOCTORAL FELLOW
  • 301.286.5220
  • NASA/GSFC
  • Mail Code: 690
  • Greenbelt , MD 20771
  • Employer: UNIVERSITIES SPACE RESEARCH ASSOCIATION
  • Brief Bio

    Luoth (Lu) Chou is an astrobiologist and organic geochemist with an interest in understanding organic biosignatures detection and characterization, planetary exploration, and the search for life in the universe. She received her B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Maryland at College Park, and her Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her graduate research was focused on understanding the biogeochemistry of a cryogenic microbial ecosystem in the subsurface of Antarctica, while under the supervision of Dr. Fabien Kenig.

    She is currently a NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellow, working with Dr. Paul Mahaffy and Dr. Sarah Stewart Johnson (Georgetown University) on the Laboratory of Agnostic Biosignatures project. This project is motivated by the need to define a more universal and inclusive framework for biosignatures without pre-supposing specific biochemistry (i.e., Terran-based life).

    Current Projects

    Agnostic Biosignature Detection Using Mass Spectrometry

    This research is focused on understanding the relationship between mass spectrometry data and chemical complexity. Various experimental and computational tools are used to detect potential biosignatures without pre-supposing the presence of a specific biochemistry. These tools are then applied to flight-capable mass spectrometer instruments, such as the Mars Organic Analyzer on Mars (MOMA), in order to inform the search for organic biosignatures on other planets such as Mars or Titan. 

    Education

    Ph.D. Earth and Environmental Sciences (2019). University of Illinois at Chicago.

    • Dissertation: "The Organic Matter of Lake Vida, Antarctica: Biogeochemistry of an Icy Planetary World Analog". Advisor: Fabien Kenig.

    B.S. Microbiology (2013). (Minor: Astronomy) University of Maryland, College Park. 

    Positions/Employment

    3/2020 - Present

    NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellow

    USRA, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Agnostic biosignature detection using mass spectrometry

    8/2019 - 3/2020

    Postdoctoral Fellow

    Georgetown University, Washington, DC

    Agnostic biosignature detection using mass spectrometry

    8/2013 - 8/2019

    Graduate Researcher

    University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL

    The Organic Matter of Lake Vida, Antarctica: Biogeochemistry of an Icy Planetary World Analog

    6/2011 - 5/2013

    Undergraduate Research Intern

    Food and Drug Administration, Laurel, MD

    The molecular genetics of Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne pathogen, under cold and salinity stress

    Awards

    • NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship. March 2020.
    • NASA Early Career Collaboration Award. Fall 2018. (Declined)
    • NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. Fall 2016 - Spring 2019.
    • Chancellor’s Graduate Research Fellowship. University of Illinois at Chicago. Summer 2015-16.
    • On To the Future Travel Award. Geological Society of America. Fall 2015.
    • LAS PhD Travel Award. University of Illinois at Chicago. Fall 2015.
    • Bodmer Science International Travel Award. University of Illinois at Chicago. Summer 2015.
    • Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Spring 2015.
    • Graduate Research Fellowship. Illinois Space Grant Consortium (ISGC). Fall 2014.
    • The Colonnade Society Undergraduate Scholarship. U of MD Alumni Association. Fall 2012.
    • The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences Scholarship. U of MD. Spr 2012.

    Special Experience

    • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Planetary Winter School. 2021
    • NASA Dragonfly Meeting Observer Program, Participant. November 2020.
    • Santa Fe Institute (2 weeks). Visiting Scientist. November 2019.
    • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (10 weeks remote, 1 week on site). July 2017. Project Manager for JPL Planetary Science Summer Seminar. Mission design exercise for a Centaur Reconnaissance Mission.
    • Biosignatures and the Search for Life on Mars Summer School (2 weeks). Summer 2016. Iceland.
    • The International Geobiology Course (5 weeks). Summer 2015. California, Nevada, and Catalina Island.
    • The History and Philosophy of Astrobiology Summer School (1 week). Summer 2015. Ven Island, Sweden.
    • Josep Comas i Solà International Summer School in Astrobiology (1 week). Summer 2014. Santander, Spain.

    Publications

    Refereed

    Smith, H. H., A. S. Hyde, D. N. Simkus, et al. E. Libby, S. E. Maurer, H. V. Graham, C. P. Kempes, B. Sherwood Lollar, L. Chou, A. D. Ellington, G. M. Fricke, P. R. Girguis, N. M. Grefenstette, C. I. Pozarycki, C. H. House, and S. S. Johnson. 2021. "The Grayness of the Origin of Life." Life, 11 (6): 498 [10.3390/life11060498]

    Chou, L., A. E. Murray, and F. Kenig. 2021. "Organic sulfones in the brine of Lake Vida, East Antarctica." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 292: 409-426 [10.1016/j.gca.2020.10.001]

    Carrier, B., D. Beaty, M. Meyer, et al. J. Blank, L. Chou, S. DasSarma, D. Des Marais, J. Eigenbrode, N. Grefenstette, N. Lanza, A. Schuerger, P. Schwendner, H. Smith, C. Stoker, J. Tarnas, K. Webster, C. Bakermans, B. Baxter, M. Bell, S. Benner, H. Bolivar Torres, P. Boston, R. Bruner, B. Clark, P. DasSarma, A. Engelhart, Z. Gallegos, Z. Garvin, P. Gasda, J. Green, R. Harris, M. Hoffman, T. Kieft, A. Koeppel, P. Lee, X. Li, K. Lynch, R. Mackelprang, P. Mahaffy, L. Matthies, M. Nellessen, H. Newsom, D. Northup, B. O'Connor, S. Perl, R. Quinn, L. Rowe, B. Sauterey, M. Schneegurt, D. Schulze-Makuch, L. Scuderi, M. Spilde, V. Stamenković, J. Torres Celis, D. Viola, B. Wade, C. Walker, R. Wiens, A. Williams, J. Williams, and J. Xu. 2020. "Mars Extant Life: What's Next? Conference Report." Astrobiology, 20 (6): ast.2020.2237 [Full Text (Link)] [10.1089/ast.2020.2237]

    Kenig, F., L. Chou, and D. J. Wardrop. 2019. "Comment on “Evaluation of the Tenax Trap in the Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument Suite on the Curiosity Rover as a Potential Hydrocarbon Source for Chlorinated Organics Detected in Gale Crater” by Miller et al. (2015)." Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 124 (2): 644-647 [10.1029/2018je005606]

    Howell, S. M., L. Chou, M. Thompson, et al. M. C. Bouchard, S. Cusson, M. L. Marcus, H. B. Smith, S. Bhattaru, J. J. Blalock, S. Brueshaber, S. Eggl, E. R. Jawin, K. Miller, M. Rizzo, K. Steakley, N. H. Thomas, K. R. Trent, M. Ugelow, C. J. Budney, K. L. Mitchell, and L. Lowes. 2018. "Camilla: A centaur reconnaissance and impact mission concept." Planetary and Space Science, 164: 184-193 [10.1016/j.pss.2018.07.008]

    Chou, L., F. Kenig, A. E. Murray, C. H. Fritsen, and P. T. Doran. 2018. "Effects of legacy metabolites from previous ecosystems on the environmental metabolomics of the brine of Lake Vida, East Antarctica." Organic Geochemistry, 122: 161-170 [10.1016/j.orggeochem.2018.05.002]

    Stelmach, K. B., M. Neveu, T. J. Vick-Majors, et al. R. L. Mickol, L. Chou, K. D. Webster, M. Tilley, F. Zacchei, C. Escudero, C. L. Flores Martinez, A. Labrado, and E. J. Fernández. 2018. "Secondary Electrons as an Energy Source for Life." Astrobiology, 18 (1): 73-85 [10.1089/ast.2016.1510]

    Kenig, F., L. Chou, C. P. McKay, et al. W. A. Jackson, P. T. Doran, A. E. Murray, and C. H. Fritsen. 2016. "Perchlorate and volatiles of the brine of Lake Vida (Antarctica): Implication for the in situ analysis of Mars sediments." Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 121 (7): 1190-1203 [10.1002/2015je004964]

    Burall, L. S., A. C. Simpson, L. Chou, P. Laksanalamai, and A. R. Datta. 2015. "A novel gene, lstC, of Listeria monocytogenes is implicated in high salt tolerance." Food Microbiology, 48: 72-82 [10.1016/j.fm.2014.12.008]

    Teaching Experience

    • Teaching Assistant. University of Illinois at Chicago. (Fall 2013 - Spring 2016). Global Environmental Change. Earth, Energy, and the Environment. Stats. Methods in Earth and Environmental Science
    • Teaching Assistant. Princeton University (John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth) (Summer 2013). Epidemiology.
    • Teaching Assistant. University of Maryland, College Park. (Fall 2012 , Spring 2013). Principles of Microbiology.

    Professional Service

    • Network for Life Detection (NfoLD). Early Career Council - Lead Team Member (February 2020 - present)
    • NASA Review Panel. Group Chief, Panelist, External Panelist, Executive Secretary (2014, 2018(x2), 2019, 2020(x3), 2021)
    • Reviewer. Astrobiology.

    Talks, Presentations and Posters

    Invited

    Signatures of Life in Cold, Subsurface Brines: An Astrobiology Analog for Icy Planetary Worlds

    5 / 2021

    Invited talk for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Department of Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry. Departmental Seminar.

    Biosignatures of Life-as-we-don't-know-it

    4 / 2021

    Invited talk for University of Florida, Department of Geological Sciences, Astrobiology Seminar.

    Agnostic Biosignatures Detection Using Mass Spectrometry

    3 / 2021

    Invited talk for University of Maryland, College Park. Department of Geology. Departmental Seminar.

    Universal Life Detection Strategies and applicability to Mars missions

    11 / 2020

    Invited talk for the NASEM Planetary Science & Astrobiology Decadal Survey Panel on Mars

    Biosignatures, familiar and unfamiliar

    10 / 2020

    Invited lecture for Astrobiology course at Williams College

    Agnostic Biosignatures Detection using Mass Spectrometry

    7 / 2020

    Solar System Exploration Division Science Seminar for the Director. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Environmental Geochemistry: Introduction to Organic Geochemistry

    2 / 2017

    UIC Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

    Astrobiology: in search of who’s out there by looking at who we are

    2 / 2016

    UIC Biology Colloquium

    Selected Public Outreach

    Astrobiology Lecture at the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart (Bethesda, Maryland) 4 / 2021 - 4 / 2021

    Gave an interactive lecture on bioorganic chemistry and how to search for life on Mars

    Interview with NASA Goddard SSED Science Exhibit Team 10 / 2020 - 10 / 2020

    Subject matter expert for content development for the new planetary exhibit at the Goddard Visitor Center

    Visits to Chicago Montessori School 4 / 2017 - 4 / 2019

    Co-create lesson plans and in-class demonstrations of geology, and planetary science. Visited the Chicago Montessori School multiple times over a period of three years.

    Visit to Brentano Math and Science Academy 12 / 2018 - 12 / 2018
    SAGANet.org Astrobiology “expert”. 8 / 2018 - Present
    saganet.org

    Volunteer as an Astrobiology "Expert" at SAGANet.org. Previously monthly newsletter organizer.

    AbGradCon Outreach Event. “An Evening of Wonder – Life and Art on Earth and Beyond” 6 / 2018 - 6 / 2018

    Volunteered as an astrobiologist to speak with the general public at Georgia Tech University

    March for Science Chicago - Social Media Organizer and Science Marshal 2 / 2017 - 4 / 2017
    https://marchforscience.org/

    Part of the organizing group for the March for Science at Chicago event. On April 22nd, 2017, approximately 60,000+ people attended the march.

    Brief Bio

    Luoth (Lu) Chou is an astrobiologist and organic geochemist with an interest in understanding organic biosignatures detection and characterization, planetary exploration, and the search for life in the universe. She received her B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Maryland at College Park, and her Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her graduate research was focused on understanding the biogeochemistry of a cryogenic microbial ecosystem in the subsurface of Antarctica, while under the supervision of Dr. Fabien Kenig.

    She is currently a NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellow, working with Dr. Paul Mahaffy and Dr. Sarah Stewart Johnson (Georgetown University) on the Laboratory of Agnostic Biosignatures project. This project is motivated by the need to define a more universal and inclusive framework for biosignatures without pre-supposing specific biochemistry (i.e., Terran-based life).

    Publications

    Refereed

    Smith, H. H., A. S. Hyde, D. N. Simkus, et al. E. Libby, S. E. Maurer, H. V. Graham, C. P. Kempes, B. Sherwood Lollar, L. Chou, A. D. Ellington, G. M. Fricke, P. R. Girguis, N. M. Grefenstette, C. I. Pozarycki, C. H. House, and S. S. Johnson. 2021. "The Grayness of the Origin of Life." Life 11 (6): 498 [10.3390/life11060498]

    Chou, L., A. E. Murray, and F. Kenig. 2021. "Organic sulfones in the brine of Lake Vida, East Antarctica." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 292 409-426 [10.1016/j.gca.2020.10.001]

    Carrier, B., D. Beaty, M. Meyer, et al. J. Blank, L. Chou, S. DasSarma, D. Des Marais, J. Eigenbrode, N. Grefenstette, N. Lanza, A. Schuerger, P. Schwendner, H. Smith, C. Stoker, J. Tarnas, K. Webster, C. Bakermans, B. Baxter, M. Bell, S. Benner, H. Bolivar Torres, P. Boston, R. Bruner, B. Clark, P. DasSarma, A. Engelhart, Z. Gallegos, Z. Garvin, P. Gasda, J. Green, R. Harris, M. Hoffman, T. Kieft, A. Koeppel, P. Lee, X. Li, K. Lynch, R. Mackelprang, P. Mahaffy, L. Matthies, M. Nellessen, H. Newsom, D. Northup, B. O'Connor, S. Perl, R. Quinn, L. Rowe, B. Sauterey, M. Schneegurt, D. Schulze-Makuch, L. Scuderi, M. Spilde, V. Stamenković, J. Torres Celis, D. Viola, B. Wade, C. Walker, R. Wiens, A. Williams, J. Williams, and J. Xu. 2020. "Mars Extant Life: What's Next? Conference Report." Astrobiology 20 (6): ast.2020.2237 [Full Text (Link)] [10.1089/ast.2020.2237]

    Kenig, F., L. Chou, and D. J. Wardrop. 2019. "Comment on “Evaluation of the Tenax Trap in the Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument Suite on the Curiosity Rover as a Potential Hydrocarbon Source for Chlorinated Organics Detected in Gale Crater” by Miller et al. (2015)." Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets 124 (2): 644-647 [10.1029/2018je005606]

    Howell, S. M., L. Chou, M. Thompson, et al. M. C. Bouchard, S. Cusson, M. L. Marcus, H. B. Smith, S. Bhattaru, J. J. Blalock, S. Brueshaber, S. Eggl, E. R. Jawin, K. Miller, M. Rizzo, K. Steakley, N. H. Thomas, K. R. Trent, M. Ugelow, C. J. Budney, K. L. Mitchell, and L. Lowes. 2018. "Camilla: A centaur reconnaissance and impact mission concept." Planetary and Space Science 164 184-193 [10.1016/j.pss.2018.07.008]

    Chou, L., F. Kenig, A. E. Murray, C. H. Fritsen, and P. T. Doran. 2018. "Effects of legacy metabolites from previous ecosystems on the environmental metabolomics of the brine of Lake Vida, East Antarctica." Organic Geochemistry 122 161-170 [10.1016/j.orggeochem.2018.05.002]

    Stelmach, K. B., M. Neveu, T. J. Vick-Majors, et al. R. L. Mickol, L. Chou, K. D. Webster, M. Tilley, F. Zacchei, C. Escudero, C. L. Flores Martinez, A. Labrado, and E. J. Fernández. 2018. "Secondary Electrons as an Energy Source for Life." Astrobiology 18 (1): 73-85 [10.1089/ast.2016.1510]

    Kenig, F., L. Chou, C. P. McKay, et al. W. A. Jackson, P. T. Doran, A. E. Murray, and C. H. Fritsen. 2016. "Perchlorate and volatiles of the brine of Lake Vida (Antarctica): Implication for the in situ analysis of Mars sediments." Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets 121 (7): 1190-1203 [10.1002/2015je004964]

    Burall, L. S., A. C. Simpson, L. Chou, P. Laksanalamai, and A. R. Datta. 2015. "A novel gene, lstC, of Listeria monocytogenes is implicated in high salt tolerance." Food Microbiology 48 72-82 [10.1016/j.fm.2014.12.008]

                                                                                                                                                                                            
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