2010 Annual Science Report
Montana State University Reporting | SEP 2009 – AUG 2010
PHL 278: A Gateway Course for a Minor in Astrobiology
We have recently developed obtained Montana Board of Regents for an undergraduate minor in Astrobiology at Montana State University. The Minor includes courses in Earth Sciences, Physics, Astronomy, Microbiology, Ecology, Chemistry, and Philosophy. Two new courses have been developed as part of the minor, one of which is a gateway or introductory course examines the defining characteristics of life on earth as well as the challenges of a science that studies life and its origin. The other course which will be offered fall 2011 is the capstone course for the minor which will delved into the science of Astrobiology in more detail and targeted for Juniors and Seniors that have fulfilled the majority of the requisite course requirements for the curriculum.
In Fall 2010, as a component of our newly approved Minor in Astrobiology at Montana State University, the first section of PHL 278: Origins of Life was offered. The course is a core “contemporary issues in science” requirement and asks students to use philosophical skills and scientific knowledge to evaluate theories regarding the nature and emergence of life on earth and elsewhere. The course examines the defining characteristics of life on earth as well as the challenges of a science that studies life and its origin. Questions asked in the course include: How is this emerging science different from more established scientific endeavors? How should scientists choose between competing theories about the origins of life? What can life as we know it tell us about the potential for extra-terrestrial life? What would constitute an “alternative form of life” and how would we recognize it if we found it? Is artificial life possible? What are the ethical and social implications of research on artificial and alternative life? In examining these questions the course explores interdisciplinary research regarding life happening across our campus, including research in biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, and physics. This course is designed to cause students to think critically not only about a variety theories about life, but also about the production of scientific knowledge and concepts such as evidence, explanation, and observation. 26 students are currently enrolled in this 4-unit course, which requires 3 term papers as well as substantial laboratory experience.
PROJECT MEMBERS:Prasanta Bandyopadhyay
RELATED OBJECTIVES:Objective 1.1
Formation and evolution of habitable planets.
Indirect and direct astronomical observations of extrasolar habitable planets.
Outer Solar System exploration
Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts
Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules
Origins of energy transduction
Origins of cellularity and protobiological systems
Earth's early biosphere.
Production of complex life.
Effects of extraterrestrial events upon the biosphere
Environment-dependent, molecular evolution in microorganisms
Co-evolution of microbial communities
Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments
Effects of environmental changes on microbial ecosystems
Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth
Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials
Biosignatures to be sought in nearby planetary systems