Committee Members


Ruth-Sophie Taubner

I am a PostDoc researcher at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria. Currently I’m working on a project where we investigate how microorganisms could be used to transform industrial produced CO2 to valuable hydrocarbons. I obtained 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.

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:

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 )


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 )

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 )

Kateřina Němečková

I am a PhD student at the Institute of Geochemistry, Mineralogy and Mineral Resources of Charles University in Prague. I received my Master degree in Geobiology with focus on detection of biomarkers of snow algae using Raman spectroscopy. Currently I’m working on endolithic biomarkers under conditions relevant to astrobiology.

Email me: katerina.nemeckova ( at )

Hayk Palabikyan

I am a Master student at tht Division of Archaea Biology and Ecogenomics at the University of Vienna. I am mainly interested in methanogenic Archaea, as they are thought to be among the first organisms on Earth. Furthermore, due to their unique physiology and cellular structure, they are able not only to survive, but also to strive under extreme conditions, which are present in extraterrestrial environments. By studying the molecular biology of this exciting group of organisms, I hope to utilize their metabolic capacity for biotechnological processes, which may one day be part of life support systems in missions outside of the planet Earth. Carl Sagan, Kathleen Rubins and last but not least Ruth were the people, who inspired me for astrobiology. “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.” Let’s not forget that our planet is the only home we will ever have. In my free time I climb and like every Hayk, I hike. I am looking forward to meeting you at the next AbGrade!

Email me: hayk.palabikyan ( at )

Silvana Pinna

I am a PhD student working on the Origins of Life at University College London (UCL, London UK), where I also attained an MRes in Biochemistry. My project focuses on investigating 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. Specifically, I am testing how ATP synthesis can be enhanced through catalysis by several geochemically plausible factors. 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 )

Former AbGradE committee members
  • 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)