Dr. Kennda L. Lynch
Dr. Kennda Lynch is an astrobiologist and geomicrobiologist studying life in extreme environments on Earth as models for characterizing habitable environments and searching for biosignatures on other planetary bodies in our solar system and elsewhere. Prior to obtaining her PhD, she worked as a systems engineer for the International Space Station Program and as a research engineer for the Astromaterials and Exploration Science directorate, both at NASA Johnson Space Center. Hence, she combines her engineering experience with her science training to work across multiple disciplines within the astrobiology community.
Dr. Lynch’s current research focuses on studying life in hypersaline environments because recent data suggest the brines are likely ubiquitous throughout the solar system and, especially on ocean worlds, are integral to habitable environments on planetary bodies.
Dr. Lynch’s primary field site is the Pilot Valley Basin in northwestern Utah, which is a specific analog for Martian Paleolake basins. In Pilot Valley, she combines sedimentology, geochemistry, microbial ecology and genomics through the use of a variety of bioinformatic tools to learn how the microbial community thrives in the basin sediments and how that translates to finding biosignatures in similar environments on other planets. The results of this work will be especially useful for informing the Mars 2020 mission team on the optimal places to look for biosignatures within the targeted Jezero crater paleolake basin. She also studies the microbial ecology and physiology of (per)chlorate reducing microorganisms as (per)chlorate and other chloride oxyanions are also seemingly ubiquitous throughout the solar system and can provide significant amounts of energy to support microbial ecosystems. She is also starting a new study, in collaboration with European partners, of the Danakil Depression polyextreme analog environment in Ethiopia. Her other research interests include origins of life and early earth environments, and development of in situ instrumentation.
Dr. Lynch is also very involved in mentoring students and post docs and is actively involved in increasing diversity in STEM education. She’s taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level and is a former director of the Engineering 100 Program at University of Illinois. At NASA, she was involved in mentoring several summer students, three NASA co-ops, and a post doc. She was also involved in the center’s educational outreach efforts. At the Colorado School of Mines, she served as a member of the president's committee on diversity and as a mentor for undergraduate researchers of diversity. Dr. Lynch is also a Ford Foundation Fellow and a proud lifetime member of the Girl Scouts. She was one of 100 women profiled in the book "Women of Space: Cool Careers on the Final Frontier" and was featured in the 2018 Netflix series "Explained".