June 11, 1998--Looks may not be everything, but they may indicate whether something was alive--here, or on Mars. To find out if looks and shape can be a signature of life, Dr. David Noever at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center plans to conduct what may be one of the world's largest computations.
Noever is developing "Book of Life" technology to identify and classify the tiniest life forms found on Earth and in samples from Mars. The project recently started under a grant from NASA's Advanced Concepts Office in Washington.
Noever has also been recognized for his inventive use of artificial intelligence to develop new drugs in response to the medical challenges posed by leukemia, E. Coli and HIV, among other important diseases.Discover magazine's July issue, in its annual Discover Awards for innovative technology, selected Noever's In Virtuo program as the top computer software product.
"Artificial intelligence is the main link between these projects," said Noever, a research scientist specializing in biotechnology in the Space Sciences Laboratory at NASA/Marshall. "The computer is the engine that solves problems depending on what kind of fuel - that is, what kind of questions--that you put into it."
Remembering The Morph Man
The idea of recognizing life when you see it may seem obvious, but its scientific grounding only dates back to Professor D'Arcy Thompson of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and his 1917 book On Growth and Form.
"He's the original morph man," said Noever, referring to Thompson and the image morphing process used to create special effects in movies like Terminator 2 and The Mask.
Now recognized as the world's first
biomathematician, Thompson applied
the concepts of mathematics to the
differences of form he observed in
Contact: Tim Tyson
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NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory