Astrobiology and Earth Observation: NASA and ESA challenges met for LIST researchers

Published on 14/09/2018

During the summer 2018, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) organised the Frontier Development Lab (FDL) in partnership with Google, nvidia, Intel, IBM and other silicon valley companies. In the context of their activities in environmental research, two LIST researchers, Dr Ramona Pelich and Dr Simone Zorzan have been selected to join the programme.

FDL programme is an applied artificial intelligence (AI) research accelerator established to maximize new AI technologies and capacities emerging in academia and the private sector and apply them to challenges in the space sciences. 


Bioinformatician Dr Simone Zorzan has been working on the Astrobiology challenge. He participated to the Challenge titled “From Biohints to Confirmed Evidence of Life: Possible Metabolisms Within Extraterrestrial Environmental Substrates”. He applied the computer science knowledge acquired during his experience as part of LIST’s activities in Environmental Informatics to create with the research team a model capable of accelerating the definition of the planetary parameters, such as the atmosphere, from observations of exoplanets orbiting the habitable zone of stars in our galaxy.   

“FDL has been an awesome experience. With my team we not only obtained outstanding scientific results, gaining the attention and the support of the NASA Goddard center, but I had the opportunity to meet and create bonds with dozens of talented young scientists and experienced entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists in the space sector” as Zorzan explains with great enthusiasm.  

“I had the opportunity to get in touch with the R&D teams of some of the best companies in the world for IT, collaborating closely with Google Cloud, but also with nvidia, Intel, IBM and many others. Entrepreneurship is moving his first steps in this field, and I met some enthusiast visionaries on the footprints of Elon Musk. Luxembourg is in a pole position to take advantage of future developments thanks to the participation to programmes such as the FDL” concludes LIST’s researcher. You can know more about his work through

Earth Observation 

Remote sensing scientist Dr Ramona Pelich has been working on the Disaster Response challenge. “I subscribe to Simone's thoughts about FDL. It has been a very nice and enriching experience. Together with my group we have been working on an 'Earth Observation & Machine Learning project' as Pelich lively says. 

In her research work she mainly employs Earth Observation data collected by satellites orbiting around the world. For instance, at LIST Pelich works with satellite radar images for mapping floods and monitoring vessels. Her knowledge in this field was substantially important for developing our FDL project entitled “Machine Learning - aided disaster response”.

“It's also been a great opportunity to connect with R&D groups from the European Space Agency as well as from the private sector: Satellite Catapult, Digital Globe, Nvidia, etc. For working on the project, we spent one week at ESA in Frascati, Italy and for the rest of the programme we were based in the lovely city of Oxford.” concludes Pelich. Read more about her FDL experience

LIST’s participation in FDL 2018 was a success thanks to the work of its representatives. Promoting excellence, it also highlights the importance of international collaboration. The Institute invites you to watch the post-event video “NASA FDL Event Horizon 2018” to know more about the programme. 

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Dr Ramona-Maria PELICH
Dr Ramona-Maria PELICH
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Dr Simone ZORZAN
Dr Simone ZORZAN
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