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Welcome to the Pilbara
Picture:Seth Shostak
Picture:Seth Shostak

Pilbara to Mars: Are We Alone?

Welcome to the NASA Macquarie University Pilbara Education Project

Acknowledgements: This material has been developed as part of the Australian School Innovation In Science, Technology and Mathematics Project funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training as part of Boosting Innovation in Science, technology and Mathematics Teaching (BISTMT) Programme.

The project was also developed under a NASA Space Act Agreement with the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney and in collaboration between the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre, seven cluster high schools in Sydney. the University of Glamorgan in Wales, three Welsh high schools and NASA, including the NASA Astrobiology Institute and NASA Learning Technologies).

Whether you are a student, a teacher or a member of the public - we invite you to experience 'science in the making' in the Pilbara of Western Australia via a range of NASA hi-tech tools, one of which was specially created for this experience. During the making of the project in a field trip to the Pilbara in 2005, Abigail Allwood was captured on film testing her hypothesis that the Trendall Locality was part of a 10 kilometre section of a 3.43 billion year old microbial reef. Her paper on it was published in Nature on June 8, 2006.

The Virtual Field Trip, a desktop virtual reality tool developed in partnership between NASA and Macquarie University, enables users to join a group of 30 international scientists interested in viewing and interpreting what may be the earliest well-preserved evidence of life on Earth. Understanding our own origins is key to searching for life, past or present, on other worlds - in particular Mars.

The scientists were joined by an education and outreach team from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology and the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and NASA Learning Technologies at the NASA Ames Research Center in California. Also present and contributing to this project was the Passport to Knowledge television production company, making a documentary about the Pilbara and another site of astrobiological interest, the Rio Tinto River in Spain.

We believe this is the first step that might herald a new way of science education using readily available and powerful computing resources, the Internet and technical advances in the kind of electronic tools that enable the user to easily tap into vast databases of knowledge via a 3D visualisation tool, to peer into otherwise invisble worlds and to journey into remote areas like the Pilbara to see and hear science as it happens.

Entering the project

The navigation on the left provides links to advice for different types of users, help functions, multimedia resources and - if you have come to the project other than through the Virtual Field Trip - a direct link to the tools that will give you dynamic and interactive access to the Pilbara. There is also a searchable database that will list text and multimedia that match your search terms.

How it happened

Two years of planning and testing, drawing together the technical expertise of NASA, the ACA research and MICTIC's ICT expertise and in collaboration with the University of Glamorgan in the UK, have produced a project that turns out to be suitable for students, teachers and the public. Please visit 'acknowledgements' to meet the core development team and to see other significant contributors including all the participating NASA centres, the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois and the Geological Survey of Western Australia.

How to make contact with us

The ongoing administrators for this wiki are: Carol Oliver, e-mail:, and Simon George, e-mail: Public log-in to edit these pages is not permitted. However, we welcome interactions, particularly from teachers anywhere in the world in relation to lesson plans built on these resources.




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