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 Tuesday, October 28, 2008 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Student Perspective: One step closer to finding life in space?
by Joanna Nasar, graduate student, Environmental Journalism

Is there life beyond our planet? Ryan Kennedy, a senior applied mathematics and computer science major and the recipient of a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is conducting research that could make it easier to identify elementary forms of life.

One application of his research is to “look for life on planets that possibly has not evolved into intelligent life,” Kennedy said. His research focuses on using software development and mathematical models to look at RNA probabilities.

RNA is a molecule that carries information from DNA to proteins. The RNA World Hypothesis, Kennedy said, is the idea that before DNA existed organisms used RNA. RNA is made up of four different bases: A, C, G and U. Kennedy’s research looks at different motifs of RNA or combinations of these bases using computer modeling to predict likely combinations for life forms.

Potentially this research could be used to search for life on other planets. More detailed information about Kennedy’s research can be found in an article he co-authored, “Information, probability, and the abundance of RNA active sites” that appeared in “Frontiers in Bioscience.”

He received the scholarship for his research and creativity on Oct.1 from NASA astronaut and University of Colorado at Boulder alumnus Vance Brand. Brand, an ASF member, has flown four flights for NASA’s manned space program and was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997. "Ryan is a bright up-and-comer, a forerunner in the fields of computer science and applied mathematics,” he said.

ASF is a nonprofit that was founded in 1984 by the six surviving astronauts of the original Mercury mission to aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships to talented college students.

"Ryan Kennedy and the undergraduate astronaut scholarship winners who preceded him have contributed significantly to the university's research mission, helping to keep us at the forefront of science, engineering and technology,” Chancellor G.P. “Bud” Peterson said.

In the future Kennedy, who grew up in Boulder, plans to pursue a graduate career in machine learning and possibly computer science. Recently he accepted a job at Q Capital Management where he will be applying machine learning to hedge fund management. Like many other CU alums, Kennedy’s research has helped to further understanding in his field.

LASP: 50 years as a forerunner in space research

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Student Perspective: One step closer to finding life in space?

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