Committee Members


Ruth-Sophie Taubner

I am the Scientific Coordinator of the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria (Austrian Academy of Sciences). I received my PhD at the University of Vienna in Astronomy working on the habitability of Enceladus’ potential subsurface water reservoir. This thesis was very interdisciplinary, including calculations about the inner structure of Enceladus, assumptions about the chemistry going on in this icy moon, and a lot of experimental microbiological work in the laboratory. In my spare time I enjoy to do sports, like playing tennis or soccer, hiking, mountain biking, or running. Hope to meet you at the next AbGradE event!

Email me: ruth-sophie.taubner ( at )


Nina Kopacz

I am a PhD student at the Department of Earth Science of Utrecht University. I work on characterizing the organic carbon content of rocky bodies in our Solar System, such as meteorites, Mars, asteroids and comets. To do so I perform laboratory experiments using simulation chambers aimed at reproducing these environments. I hope that these experiments, along with data from astronomical observations, will help to better understand the distribution of organic content and guide our instrumentation choices in space missions aimed at its detection.
I am also part of the PELE team (Planetary Analogs & Exobiology Lava Tube expedition), which investigates lava tubes as analog sites to possible strongholds of life on Mars.

Email me: k.a.kopacz ( at )

Representative on the EANA-council:

Silvana Pinna

I am a postdoctoral researcher working on the Origins of Life at the Supramolecular Science & Engineering Institute (ISIS – Université de Strasbourg, France). In my work, I try to shorten the gap between geochemistry and modern metabolism.  I am interested in how the emergence of life on our planet can be extrapolated to potential life elsewhere in the Universe, either present or past. During my PhD at University College London (UCL, London UK) I investigated the primordial emergence of ATP, the “universal energy currency” of the cell, via substrate-level phosphorylation by the small prebiotically plausible molecule acetyl phosphate, in hydrothermal settings. My first experience with Astrobiology was a summer internship at the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid, where I was testing an instrument for biosignature detection for a possible application on the Martian soil. My other interests include going to the theatre, singing and travelling. See you at the next AbGradE event!

Email me: silvana.pinna ( at )


Petra Schwendner

I received my PhD in the fascinating field of microbiology focusing on microbial diversity of extreme environments. Since 2014, I have been involved in the MASE (Mars Analogues for Space Exploration) project working at the University of Edinburgh and recently moved on to study hypobarophiles at the Space Life Sciences Lab in Florida. I am looking forward to meeting you at AbGradE.

Email me: science.schwendner ( at )


Alex Price

I am a postdoctoral researcher at The Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. My current research focuses on various microbial metabolisms which could be viable in past and present martian environments, while my PhD thesis investigated anaerobic nitrate-dependent iron-oxidising bacteria, which may have suited the anoxic sediments of early martian lakes and streams. I did my Masters in microbiology at Bergen University, Norway, on endolithic communities in Antarctic gypsum. When I’m not science-ing, I’m probably chasing a ball around a pitch/field/court, nerding out on sci-fi or exploring something new. Come and say “Hi” at the next AbGradE!

Email me: alex.price ( at )


Hector-Andreas Stavrakakis

I am currently a PhD student at the National Technical University of Athens, School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering. In my PhD I investigate the use of electrokinetics in geological formations in extreme conditions and in extent their utilisation for space and Martian applications for the production of mission essentials. My research interests evolve around space technologies and sciences but are primarily focused on Mars and the Martian environment. This has allowed me to participate in many groups and projects over the years, each time with amazing experiences, such as AbGradE. My other interests include board games (Warhammer 40k primarily), cooking, travelling and doing sports.

Email me: hecstavrakakis ( at )

Alessia Cassaro

I graduated at a master degree course in Cellular and Molecular Biology at University of Tuscia, with a thesis about the search of fungal biomarkers on samples exposed to space environment (BIOMEX project). Now, I’m a PhD student at the same institution and my researches focus on the study of Antarctica microfossils, with the aim to investigate the stability of biomarkers after exposure to radiation environment (BIOSIGN project). I am also involved in “Life in space” project, aiming to study the resistance of eukaryotic test organism Cryomyces antarcticus to Mars significant perchlorates and to characterize the possible effect on the fungal metabolism after exposure to Mars-simulation conditions.

Email me: cassaro ( at )

Pablo de Lucía Finkel

I am currently a PhD student in the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid, Spain. My line of research focuses on lipid biomarkers, which are not only the cheeky molecules that make us fat, but also the basic monomer of the plasma membrane, a fundamental barrier that separates every cell from the rest of the universe. The simplest lipids are surprisingly resistant molecules, being able to uphold their molecular integrity for thousands of millions of years if preserved within salts, ices or the sedimentary record. Their durability, along with their ubiquity, crafts a recipe for optimism in regard to the search for traces of past life on Mars. Besides, I really enjoy scientific outreach, diving, climbing and mountaineering. I also love penguins with all my heart.

Email me: plfinkel (at)

Beatriz Gallego Fernandez

I am a P.hD. student at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. My project focuses on the potential use of cyanobacteria (specifically Chroococcidiopsis) in the development of in-situ resource utilization and Life support systems on Mars and the Moon. I did my Master’s in Environmental Microbiology at Radboud University (The Netherlands) where I investigated the effect of climate change in antarctic methanotrophic communities and the electrogenic capacity of ANME 2-d.
I spend most of my free time cycling and practicing triathlon, but when I am not on my bike I love mountaineering and traveling.

Email me: bgta1810 (at)

Keyron Hickman-Lewis

I am a Research Fellow at the Natural History Museum, London. Previously, I read for a degree in Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, and received my Ph.D. in co-tutelle between the CNRS Orléans and the Università di Bologna.
I am a palaeontologist applying high-resolution biogeochemical approaches to the earliest traces of life on Earth, decoding their palaeoenvironmental settings and metabolic landscapes using a number of techniques. I am also a Returned Sample Science participating scientist on the Mars 2020 mission, helping to define the cache of samples that will eventually be brought back for study on Earth.
Outside of the lab, my main interests are the history, performance and theory of music, the history of art, and travel.

Email me: hickman.lewis ( at )

Dominik Horký

During my first Master (Ecosystem Biology) at the Czech Academy of Sciences and the University of South Bohemia in Czechia, I focused on Arctic lakes and the ecology of the microorganisms living there. In my second Master (Earth and Climate System Science) at the German Aerospace Center Berlin and University Hohenheim in Germany, I focused on molecular biosignatures found in microorganisms living in the Antarctic and the Atacama Desert. My main focus was the possibility of detecting such biosignatures on Mars using Raman spectroscopy. Naturally, I would like to continue with a PhD, ideally continuing research with extremophiles. However, the programme that I recently finished studying was multidisciplinary with a focus on the climate and Earth’s atmosphere, which made me interested in the atmospheres of exoplanets as well. I like to experiment in the kitchen, including baking. I love travelling and hiking, theatre, I enjoy reading and watching sci-fi, fantasy, comedies and superhero movies.

Email me: horky.dominik (at)

Stella Marie Koch

I did my Bachelors in Biological Sciences with focus in Nanobiotechnology at the University of Münster (Germany). After that, I very luckily found my way to the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne where I am currently finishing my Master thesis in Space Microbiology. I will soon start a PhD in the same research group. My scientific focus is on fungal decontamination approaches and the search for antifungal materials, which can be applied as built material in space crafts for longterm manned space flights. Despite being in the lab, I have a passion for cooking and being active outside, preferably hiking in the woods, collecting mushrooms!

Email me: stella.koch ( at )

Philippe Nauny

After obtaining a joint M. Sc. in chemistry and biology in Strasbourg(France), I worked a few years as a research assistant. Interested in space exploration, the origin of life, and evolution, I completed an astrobiology-oriented Ph. D. in Earth sciences at the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom), mainly studying biomarkers in Chilean and Icelandic environmental analogues for Mars. Besides my research project I had a personal interest for meteorites and the history of science; I am also a keen modern board games player and a Star Trek enthusiast.
Working outside academia at the moment, I am now less active in the committee than I used to be.

Email me: ( at )

Hayk Palabikyan

I am a PhD student in the Archaea Physiology and Biotechnology Group at the University of Vienna, Austria. I am mainly interested in methanogenic Archaea and my research focuses on their physiology and molecular biology. I aim at utilizing their metabolism for developing sustainable biotechnological processes, which have the potential to become an essential milestone of a carbon neutral circular economy and which may one day be part of life support systems for missions outside of planet Earth. Carl Sagan, Kathleen Rubins and Ruth Taubner are the people, who inspire me to explore the exciting dimensions of astrobiology. “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.” In my free time I climb and like a true Hayk, I hike. I am looking forward to meeting you at the next AbGradE event!

Email me: hayk.palabikyan ( at )

Ben Tatton

I am a PhD student in the AstrobiologyOU research group at the Open University in the United Kingdom. My research is focused on prokaryotic life in high-altitude lakes and what biogeochemical cycling within these systems can tell us about the type of life that may have been present on Mars during more clement periods in its history. To do this my research aims to assess how geochemical changes impact the community profile and function within these extreme environments as well as to identify plausible metabolisms through laboratory simulation experiments. I have adopted an interdisciplinary approach, combing geochemical and ‘omics-based analytical methods. Outside of my PhD, I can usually be found outdoors with hiking, camping, and running being amongst my favourite past times.

Email me: ben.tatton (at)

Alexandra Zetterlind

I am currently a PhD student at the Department of Earth Science of Utrecht University, the Netherlands. My research project focuses on the delivery of volatile material to young, rocky planets. By various laboratory experiments that investigate organic compounds in carbonaceous meteorites, I attempt to constrain the contribution of extraterrestrial organics to the early Earth and beyond. I obtained my Masters in organic geochemistry at Uppsala University, Sweden, studying lipid biomarkers in active serpentinization systems. See you at the next AbGradE event!

Email me: a.o.zetterlind (at)

Former AbGradE committee members
  • Kateřina Němečková (2019-2022)
  • Claudia Pacelli (2018-2021)
  • Marta Filipa Cortesão (2016-2021)
  • Mickael Baqué (2014-2021)
  • Fanny Vazart (2018-2020)
  • Bjarke Haldrup (2017-2019)
  • Niloofar Feshangsaz (2016-2019)
  • Ðorđe Markovič (2016-2018)
  • Tareq Omairi (2015-2018)
  • Iris M. Madsen (2016-2017)
  • Athanasios Papadopoulos (2015-2017)
  • Angela M. Garcia Sanchez (2015-2017)
  • Bo Byloos (2014-2017)
  • Maximilian Mora (2014-2017)
  • Baptiste Journaux (2015-2016)
  • Alexandra Perras (2015-2016)
  • Michaela Musilova (2014-2016)
  • Adam Stevens (2014-2016)
  • Cyprien Verseux (2014-2016)
  • Lena Noack (2013-2016)
  • Eugenio Simoncini (2013-2016)
  • Toby Samuels (2014-2016)
  • Paloma Serrano (2013-2015)
  • Thomas Gautier (2014)
  • Vassilissa Vinogradoff (2014)