NSS Convention ~ July 25-30, 2021

LABE Microbiology Trip

The Cave Walls are Alive!

Exploring Microbes That Inhabit Caves and Their Geological Habitat

  • By Penny Boston and Diana Northup
  • Lava Beds National Monument
  • July 3-5, 2021
  • Sponsored in part by the U.S. National Park Service

Have you ever felt like the cave walls are watching you, or perhaps wondered what might live on those walls? Come join Diana Northup and Penny Boston to learn about the amazing microbial life that lives on the walls of the caves in Lava Beds National Monument!

Penny and Diana have been studying cave microbes around the world for the last two and a half decades, exploring how microbes and geology interact and revealing new microbes to science. They have learned that many microbes "masquerade as minerals" - a finding that has shed light on how to recognize life in caves on extraterrestrial bodies.

Cave Microbioogy

"Cold, slimy and pitch dark. Just add some acid and you'll make Diana Northup and Penny Boston happy. Northup, Boston and their colleagues - the self-named slime team - study cave-dwelling microbes."
Photo by Kenneth L. Ingham.

Click here to read an article about these scientists in NASA Astrobiology Magazine.

Mike Spilde, a cave mineralogist with decades of experience, will introduce you to cave minerals that are home to many microbes - some of which are even microbially created. Kenneth Ingham, an award winning cave photographer, will lead you in learning to take photos of the microbial/mineral deposits.

Through a two-day field camp at Lava Beds National Monument (LABE), you will:

  • Explore the microbial life in LABE caves.
  • Learn about the secondary minerals in lava caves that harbor microbes.
  • Identify which mineral deposits are likely to contain microbial communities.
  • Enhance your ability to take photos of microbes that masquerade as minerals, secondary minerals, and science in action.
  • Culture microbes from the cave walls.
  • Explore scanning electron microscopy images of LABE microbes and minerals that enlarge what you see 100s to 1000s of times.
  • Be introduced to astrobiology - the study of life on other planets and bodies.
  • Conduct a "ground truthing" experiment in which your team will study walls of a backcountry cave to identify best targets for a rover to sample for life.
  • Construct a game to teach others about microbes that masquerade as minerals.
LABE Microbiology Trip

Field Camp Details

Field Trip Leader

Diana Northup, PhD

Professor Emerita of Biology, University of New Mexico


This event has a group limit of 12 participants maximum. Once that limit is reached, a wait-list will be established.
Age limits are 18 and above (or 14 and above with adult accompanier).
Non-participating accompaniers will be allowed in the camping area, but not in the sessions or research center. They still need to register as an accompanier.

Field Camp Contact:

Diana Northup, PhD
Email: dnorthup@unm.edu


To register for this event, please select "Microbiology Field Camp" on your convention registration form. There is an additional fee for this event.


Participants will stay in the group campground at Lava Beds National Monument. Activities will be held in the park's research center or in the field. Additional details will be posted here in the next few weeks.

Today's Weather: Lava Beds National Monument, CA

  • Updated: Saturday, June 12 at 6:17 am
  • Reporting Station: VAN BREMMER (VABC1)
  • Elevation: 5,303 ft.
  • GPS: 41.642967;-121.794875
  • Data provided by: National Weather Service
46° F
Mostly Clear

Regional Map Forecast Wind: 18 mph (SSE)
Humidity: 83%
Dewpoint: 41°F
Barometer: N/A
Visibility: N/A

Overnight: Mostly clear, with a low around 46. South southwest wind around 3 mph.
Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 76. South southwest wind 3 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 24 mph.