Today we are making donations suggested by some of Austin's friends from the University of Chicago and the Albuquerque Academy.
Marie W. - $600.00 to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Institute for Learning Access and Training.
Statement - "The CSO's Institute for Learning Access and Training supports the educational and community engagement efforts of the CSO. We all know how much Austin loved attending CSO concerts in college, and I thought it would be nice to support not only them, but their outreach program as well. I love the idea of bringing the music Austin loved to more people, and helping more people feel and love the music as Austin did."
Jeremy S. - Carnegie Institute for Science - $500
Statement - “I chose charities that I hope will continue the impact Austin has made on science, the arts, and knowledge in general, particularly in New Mexico and in Chicago”
Charity Statement - “Feed My Starving Children is a non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding God’s children hungry in body and spirit. The approach is simple: children and adults hand-pack meals specifically formulated for malnourished children, and we ship these meals to nearly 70 countries around the world.”
Statement - "Science was never far from Austin's and my conversations, and both of us chose to pursue lives contributing to scientific understanding. Because of their devotion to science education in the Chicago Area, I would like to select Project Exploration to receive one of the 12 days' donation. Project Exploration is a nonprofit science education organisation that works with schools in the Chicago area to promote education in science. Many of their activities include fieldwork outings and labs that expose students to science firsthand, something that Austin believed was vital to scientific understanding. The organisation is reflective of Austin's life in several ways. Project Exploration, which has received numerous awards including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, was founded by paleontologist Paul Sereno and educator Gabrielle Lyon. Paul Sereno is a professor at the University of Chicago and his wife, Gabrielle Lyon, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and later attended the University of Chicago where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees in history. The organisation has helped thousands of students find inspiration in science through field trips to places like the Chicago Botanical Garden and also by bringing scientists and engineers to classrooms to meet with students and discuss future science-related careers. A study by the University of California–Berkeley found that 95 percent of its participants had graduated from high school, and 60 percent of those who went on to college are pursuing, or have earned, degrees related to science and math. I think Project Exploration is an amazing organisation that is pursuing values Austin believed in his entire life. 12 Days of Austin's Christmas will help this program continue to inspire students around the Chicago area."
Statement - "Considering how much I was enjoying Carl Sagan, and how much Carl Sagan’s awe for the universe and its phenomena reminded me of Austin, I wanted to donate to something Carl-Sagany. Through the Sagan Foundation I found SETI and its Carl Sagan Center (http://www.seti.org/carlsagancenter). Though SETI has been popularized in Sagan’s book Contact for probing the night sky with radio telescopes to detect signals from other civilizations, SETI researchers do much more than idly twiddle their thumbs and look for unnatural patterns in radio waves (such as strings of prime numbers). The Sagan Center is engaging multiple astrobiological/ astrochemical projects, including investigating the “Chemistry of Life”, which I thought would be up Austin’s alley.
One day, for whatever reason, I was telling Austin about a hypothesis I had read on Wikipedia called the “panspermia hypothesis”, which proposes that certain life-forms can survive the cold vacuum of space and travel on asteroids to seed life on new worlds (and that therefore life on Earth may have originated from elsewhere, or life could have spread from Earth to elsewhere). I couldn’t remember the name of the hypothesis at the time, and when I sent Austin the link to Wikipedia’s article he wrote:
“I had certainly heard of exogenesis, but panspermia is a novel concept to me. The idea that life (or at least the kind we're used to) originated in only one place has a definite appeal, considering what a low-probability event it seems to be. But there seems to be quite a bit of hand-waving involved in explaining in detail how it would get from one place to the other without being destroyed”. The typical Austin interest and warranted skepticism still makes me smile. It’s definitely one of the more interesting hypotheses for the spread of life that’s being actively investigated by the scientific community- recently a paper came out http://arxiv.org/pdf/1108.3375v1.pdf stating that when fragments of Earth are ejected into space following collisions with asteroids, these fragments can travel to not only Venus but even as far as Mars or Jupiter. Life on Mars has always been a possibility that fascinated astronomers/astrobiologists- how ironic if the Curiosity rover finds some lowly bacteria grazing on Mars to only later discover (DNA sequencing?) that these are Earth bacteria!!- but even that result would be exciting-!"