Syllabus: Life in the Universe
Instructor: Prof. Wolfgang H. Berger, Teaching Assistant: Patty Anderson
Are we humans alone in the universe? Ever wondered who else is out there? This is your chance to explore these age-old questions with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanographyand the California Space Institute at UCSD. This on-line course explores the history of life on our own planet and the possibility for life elsewhere. This 5 week course consists of 12 lessons. Course topics include: the ingredients of life, the origin of life on Earth, life beyond Earth, exobiology, and the search for intelligent life in the universe. All the reading, course material and assessments are on-line, there are no regularly scheduled class meetings: learn where and when you want! Included are printable lecture notes, engaging discussion groups, weekly group assignments and links to additional material.
It is an introductory course; there are no prerequisites, although it is suggested that students have some background in Astronomy and/or have taken the Introduction to Astronomy course that we offer.
Text: Our courses are self-written, all lecture notes and reading material are available on-line as html documents and printable pdf files. There is no other required text.
Method of Teaching: This is an on-line course, all course materials are available on-line. Learning methods include printable lecture notes, asyncronous threaded discussions, weekly assignments, on-line short quizzes at the end of each chapter, and links to additional material.
- 20%: Thoughtful participation in on-line threaded discussions.
- 30%: Successful completion of short weekly assignments (i.e. writing a short essay or position piece, outside web-based research on a class topics, etc.)
- 50%: Short quizzes at the end of each chapter (multiple choice and short answer)
Topical Outline: The course is 5 weeks; we introduce 2-3 lessons per week for a total of 12 lessons. Each lesson requires about 2 hours to complete – including reading, a short assignment, discussion and a quiz.
- Lesson 1: What is Life?
-Some Basic Facts, Classifications of Living Things, Definition of Life
- Lesson 2: Origin of Life Scenarios
-Basic Assumptions, The Early Earth, The Prebiotic Soup
- Lesson 3: Development of Simple Life
-The Common Ancestor, Growth and Reproduction, Significance of Ontogeny
- Lesson 4: How Life Became “Complicated”
-Organelles and Symbiosis, Serial Endosymbiosis Theory, Lateral Gene Transfer
- Lesson 7: Disturbance and Mass Extinction
-Extinction: Brief History of an Idea, Extinction Through Geologic Time
- Lesson 8: The Genetic Record
-Introduction to Genetics
- Lesson 9: Why Brains?
- The Likelihood for Getting Smart, Basic Musings on Big Brains
- Lesson 10: Life on Other Planets?
-Martian Meteorites: Evidence for Life? Mars as a Candidate for Life, Europa and Titan: Moons with Life?
- Lesson 11: The Search for Biomarkers
-Some Indicators of Life
- Lesson 12: The Science of Searching for Intelligent Life
-SETI and the Drake Equation, Interstellar Travel, The WOW Signal
Upon completion of this course students should be able to give a definition for life and explain scenarios for the origin of life on Earth. They will be able to identify the five kingdoms and be able to explain processes of natural selection, evolution and extinction. Importantly, students will have gained the scientific basis to understand and assess scientific evidence for life on other planets.