From a combination of astrophysical, biochemical, and geological circumstances, living systems developed on Earth. The origin of terrestrial life is still highly uncertain, but is fundamental to Astrobiology. This course will provide a basic understanding of what life is and associated biochemical/biophysical processes. It will present the most current scenarios of how and why life developed on Earth, and how it might evolve on other planets, in and outside our Solar system. Topics will include the structure and function of biomolecules, including enzymes, proteins, and nucleic acids, the role of membranes, physical and chemical conditions on young Earth, the RNA World, the Ribosomal Tree of Life, evolution of living systems as traced by the fossil record, and non-carbon based life. The course is designed for both advanced undergraduate and graduate students in the physical sciences who want to understand more of the biological/biochemical aspects of living systems and how they came to be. The course is intended to take the student¿s current perspective in physics, astronomy, chemistry, planetary sciences or geology, and broaden it with additional understanding from each of the other fields and from biology/biochemistry.
Astrobiology Graduate Courses
Students will choose 9 units of courses from the following list.
The Nature and Origins of Life
Astronomy/Planetary Sciences 550
Origin of the Solar System and Other Planetary Systems
This course will review the physical processes related to the formation and evolution of the protosolar nebula and of protoplanetary disks. In doing that, we will discuss the main stages of planet formation and how different disk conditions impact planetary architectures and planet properties. We will confront the theories of disk evolution and planet formation with observations of circumstellar disks, exoplanets, and the planets and minor bodies in our Solar System. Graduate-level requirements include advanced quantitative problems in homeworks and tests.
Astronomy/Planetary Sciences 575
The course will explore the processes related to planet formation and the emergence of life. We will study the formation of our Solar System and exoplanetary systems, the conditions that gave rise to life on the Earth, and the potential habitability of other planets/moons in our system or extrasolar systems. Graduate-level requirements include advanced homework assignments and written examination.
Astronomy/Planetary Sciences 588A
This astrochemistry course is the study of gas phase and solid state chemical processes that occur in the universe, including those leading to pre-biotic compounds. Topics include chemical processes in dying stars, circumstellar gas, planetary nebulae, diffuse clouds, star-forming regions and proto-planetary discs, as well as planets, satellites, comets and asteroids. Observational methods and theoretical concepts will be discussed. Graduate-level requirements include a project and an oral exam.
Geosciences/Astronomy/Planetary Sciences 584
The Coevolution of Earth and the Biosphere
This course examines the interplay of changes in earth environments and biological evolution from the earliest life to the present. The focus is geochemical and topics include the early earth and life, evolutionary jumps, mass extinctions, and the rise of hominids. Graduate level requirements include multiple in-class presentations/reviews on journal articles.