James “Nick” Benardini III, PhD

Planetary Protection Engineer

Office: 818-354-4453


Dr. J. Nick Benardini has conducted research in the field of in environmental microbiology studying extreme environments for the past 13 years. He has participated in both applied research and field studies in conducting molecular and traditional microbiological community analysis. He has actively participated in the implementation teams for the Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Science Laboratory, InSight 2016 and Mars 2020 Missions. Specially, he has experience in microbial sample collection (air, water, surface), concentration, molecular separation, nucleic acid based approaches (DNA extraction, PCR, whole genome amplification approaches for low biomass, and custom DNA-microarray), and protein based approaches (ESI-MS/MS). He has been instrumental in sampling the Mars 2020, InSight, Mars Science Laboratory, JUNO, Mars Exploration Rovers, International Space Station’s ground support loop (SSPF, KSC), and leading the sampling and laboratory support team for the Mars Science Laboratory. He has served as the lead for the InSight 2016 and Mars 2020 missions.

Research Interests

  • Microbial detection in conjunction with contamination issues or life detection
  • Microbial resistance of space environments, such as UV radiation
  • Development of new products and/or applications for molecular biology
  • Microbial Ecology of extreme environments

Professional Experience

Member of the Technical Staff, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group (BPPG), March 2008-Present.

Graduate Research Assistant, University of Idaho, August 2003-March 2008.

Teaching Assistant, University of Idaho, August 2003-May 2004.

Technical Assistant II, JPL BPPG, February 2003– August 2003.


2003-2008, PhD, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Biochemistry, University of Idaho.

1998-2002, BS, Microbiology, University of Arizona.

Selected Awards

August, 2003, Certificate of Recognition, Planetary Protection Support on Mars Exploration Rover Mission, JPL.

April, 2004, Certificate of Recognition, Mars Exploration Rover.

2003-2004, Outstanding Teaching Assistant, University of Idaho.

2003-2004, NASA EPSCoR Fellow, University of Idaho.

September, 2006, Finalist in the Student Poster Competition, Environmental and Subsurface Science Symposium.

2006-2007, Idaho Space Grant Consortium Fellow, University of Idaho.

2006-2007, Inland Northwest Research Alliance Fellow, University of Idaho.

April, 2007, Outstanding Presentation, Graduate Student Expo, University of Idaho.

2007-2008, Idaho Space Grant Consortium Fellow, University of Idaho.

2007-2008, Inland Northwest Research Alliance Fellow, University of Idaho.

2007, University of Idaho Alumni Award for Excellence.

May 2008, Banner Holder for College of Graduate Studies, University of Idaho

September 2008, SPOT Award, JPL.

August 2009, SPOT Award, JPL.

September 2010, SPOT Award, JPL.

September 2011, SPOT Award, JPL.

September 2011, Mariner Award, JPL.

September 2012, Mariner Award, JPL.

July 2013, MSL Project Operations Team, Group Achievement Award, JPL.

July 2013, MSL Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations Team, JPL.

July 2013, MSL Mechanical Team, JPL.

July 2013, MSL Launch Services Team, JPL.

August 2014, Ranger Award, JPL.

September 2014, Early Career Achievement Medal, NASA Honor Award.

April 2016, Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, The White House, US Government.

July 2016, Mars 2020 Planetary Protection and Contamination Control Team Award, JPL.

Selected Publications

Benardini III, James N., et al. "Implementing planetary protection measures on the Mars Science Laboratory." Astrobiology 14.1 (2014): 27-32.

Benardini III, James N., et al. "Implementing Planetary Protection on the Atlas V Fairing and Ground Systems Used to Launch the Mars Science Laboratory." Astrobiology 14.1 (2014): 33-41.

Benardini, James, et al. International Space Station Internal active thermal control system: an initial assessment of the microbial communities within fluid from ground support and flight hardware. No. 2005-01-3094. SAE Technical Paper, 2005.

Benardini, James, et al. Viral Populations within the International Space Station's Internal Active Thermal Control System Ground Support and Potential Flight Hardware. No. 2007-01-3108. SAE Technical Paper, 2007.

Benardini, James N., et al. "Paenibacillus phoenicis sp. nov., isolated from the Phoenix Lander assembly facility and a subsurface molybdenum mine."International journal of systematic and evolutionary microbiology 61.6 (2011): 1338-1343.

Benardini, James N., et al. "Spore UV and acceleration resistance of endolithic Bacillus pumilus and Bacillus subtilis isolates obtained from Sonoran desert basalt: implications for lithopanspermia." Astrobiology 3.4 (2003): 709-717.

Coil, David A., James N. Benardini, and Jonathan A. Eisen. "Draft Genome Sequence of Bacillus safensis JPL-MERTA-8-2, Isolated from a Mars-Bound Spacecraft." Genome announcements 3.6 (2015): e01360-15.

Cooper, Moogega, et al. "Comparison of innovative molecular approaches and standard spore assays for assessment of surface cleanliness." Applied and environmental microbiology 77.15 (2011): 5438-5444.

Kuhlman, K. R., et al. "Diversity of microorganisms within rock varnish in the Whipple Mountains, California." Applied and Environmental Microbiology 72.2 (2006): 1708-1715.

Kuhlman, K. R., et al. "Enumeration, isolation, and characterization of ultraviolet (UV-C) resistant bacteria from rock varnish in the Whipple Mountains, California." Icarus 174.2 (2005): 585-595.

Kwan, K., et al. "Evaluation of procedures for the collection, processing, and analysis of biomolecules from low-biomass surfaces." Applied and environmental microbiology 77.9 (2011): 2943-2953.

La Duc, Myron T., et al. "Microbial diversity of Indian Ocean hydrothermal vent plumes: microbes tolerant of desiccation, peroxide exposure, and ultraviolet and γ-irradiation." Astrobiology 7.2 (2007): 416-431.

Newcombe, David A., et al. "Survival of spacecraft-associated microorganisms under simulated martian UV irradiation." Applied and environmental microbiology 71.12 (2005): 8147-8156.

Vaishampayan, Parag, et al. "Microbial Persistence in Low‐Biomass, Extreme Environments: The Great Unknown." Handbook of Molecular Microbial Ecology I: Metagenomics and Complementary Approaches (2011): 541-550.

Vaishampayan, Parag, et al. "New perspectives on viable microbial communities in low-biomass cleanroom environments." The ISME journal 7.2 (2013): 312-324.

Venkateswaran, Kasthuri, et al. "Deposition of extreme-tolerant bacterial strains isolated during different phases of Phoenix spacecraft assembly in a public culture collection." Astrobiology 14.1 (2014): 24-26.

CL#: 17-1953, 18-1585

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