NASA Ames Scientist Leslie Prufert-Bebout Receives Blue Marble Award
Leslie Prufert-Bebout Leslie Prufert-Bebout is a microbial ecologist who studies many different species of algae in natural biological communities.
Photo credit: NASA/Dominic Hart
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Leslie Prufert-Bebout, a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is the recipient of the 2010 Blue Marble Award for Environmental and Energy Excellence, in recognition of exceptional leadership and professionalism in implementing NASA’s mission and vision of “understanding and protecting the home planet” and “improving the quality of life on Earth.”

NASA Headquarters’ Office of Infrastructure and Administration, Environmental Management Division presents the annual Blue Marble Awards. This year, the award will be presented at the NASA Environment and Energy Conference, June 16, at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

"Lee is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of microbial ecology. While studying algal communities, she has developed new methods for water remediation, carbon dioxide sequestration, green energy production and other high value products," said Orlando Santos, chief of the Exobiology Branch at NASA Ames. “Her work has not only benefited NASA missions, but will help our country meet some of its energy independence goals.”

Prufert-Bebout is a microbial ecologist who studies the symbiotic interactions of the many different species in natural biological communities. This work is critical for developing artificial systems potentially capable of generating diesel fuel, methane, hydrogen, or other commercial products. Her research provides answers to species selection, community structure of ecosystems, and optimal conditions for growth of desired biomass products. Her microbial work is critical to open pond systems and closed bioreactor systems that may be used on future NASA exploration missions.

Awarded a grant from the Department of Energy in 2008, she was made principle investigator for a “green” energy research project. Building on long term research performed at Ames on microbial mats, Lee optimized the growth of specific cyanobacterial species to identify the environmental controls on the seasonal occurrence of different communities. She also facilitated and developed collaborations with Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif. and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Calif. for the Ames research team to identify pathways of carbon and nitrogen cycling in complex microbial communities, and elucidate the mechanisms of hydrogen production and consumption.

To promote Ames’ green initiative, she established new relationships with industry, sharing NASA’s interest in microbiological technologies for future space flights, and identifying areas where NASA technologies could be of mutual benefit.

In addition to facilitating these collaborations, she initiated a project to study Bodega photo-bioreactors, and both promoted and participated in Ames’ RoboAlgae and Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control projects. Future projects will help establish Ames as a leader in the areas of remote monitoring for the algal biomass industry, local waste water assessment for biomass and energy use, and photo-bioreactor algal development for space operations, respectively.

With colleagues Jonathan Trent, John Hogan, Tori Hoehler and Brad Bebout at NASA Ames, she helped obtain funding to create awareness of green technology advancements in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.