Life in the Universe

Astronomy 6 -- Spring 2006

DRL A6 MWF 11 am-12 noon

Instructor: Ravi K. Sheth

Welcome to Life in the Universe. In this class, we will discuss and learn about the origin and evolution of life and the search for life in the Universe (including on Earth and on other planets and moons of the Solar System). We will discuss topics in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy that are related to Astrobiology and the search for life in the Universe.

This course satisfies the General requirement - Sector VI: The Physical World. This course also fulfills the College Quantitative Data Analysis requirement. In particular, one of the lab assignments will require you to think about data analysis. Don't worry, I'll give you instructions and guidelines.

In this class we will have lectures, which will include demonstrations and in-class group discussions. You will also be asked to carry out a laboratory assignment, complete three or four homework assignments, and write a modest term paper. In addition, you will have the opportunity to make an oral presentation as part of a group. There will also be one midterm and one final exam (see below for grading scheme).

Required math skills: Math and manipulation of numbers and mathematical expressions will be required in this course. Every single one of you has all of the math skills (standard high school math) needed for this course. Don't be afraid, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you get stuck!

Office hours: I will have office hours on Mondays and Thursdays from 3-5pm. I am also in my office most days, so you can stop by if you would like to chat. You can also arrange a specific meeting time with me (which guarantees I will be there). If you have a regular conflict with my usual office hours, please talk to me. It is certainly possible to set up another time for office hours if enough people have conflicts.

My only request is that you do not come right before class. I use that time for class preparations rather than seeing individual students.

The other thing is that I strongly recommend - strongly recommend - that you start assignments early and not wait until the last day to come and ask me questions. Similarly, if you get lost in class, do not wait until you are really, really lost - take early action and avoid later problems.

How to find me:
Office: DRL 4N3 (4th floor, north wing, east end of the hall, south side)
Phone: 215 898 5942 (or 85942 from campus phones)

Textbook: There is not a satisfactory astrobiology textbook out there that meets the needs of this class. Therefore, a set of readings has been assigned in a Coursepack; these will be useful for the wide range of topics we will cover. This coursepack is available at Campus Copy Center (3907 Walnut Street; 215 386 6410). The coursepack should cost you about $60 - much cheaper than if you had to buy any of these textbooks individually.

I will also be using a lot of supplemental material in my lectures to augment the coursepack materials. This will sometimes include material that I distribute in class.

Readings have been drawn from over a dozen sources. The library does own some of these books, and you are encouraged to browse them (or similar texts). If you are looking for more resources beyond what is in the coursepack, please do ask. You should feel free to consult any additional references along the way.

What else do we need? You will also need a calculator. Each student will need his/her own calculator! Come see me if you either don't know what calculator to get or find that this is a hardship for you. There is no need to get (or even use) a fancy graphing calculator. You also will need web and email access, but of course that goes without saying.

What do we have to do for this class? And how do grades work? As you will quickly learn, astrobiology is a wild combination of many different kinds of science. I have adopted this philosophy in designing this class. You will therefore have many different kinds of assignments in this class.

Specifically, you will have the following assignments (with their weight in the final grade given in parentheses): midterm (20%); final exam (25%); term paper/in class presentation (25%); homework assignments (15%); and lab assignments (15%).

The final exam will be at the time specified by the Registrar for this class ( Friday 28 April 12 noon - 2 pm). The midterm will be just before Spring Break (probably Friday 3 March). The final paper will be due the last day of class (Friday 21 April). The due dates for the homeworks and labs will be specified when they are assigned, though tentative dates are given in the Course Outline.

What are these lab assignments? You will have one astronomy lab in this class. It will require you to make some observations of the mountains on the surface of the Moon using the telescopes on the roof of DRL. You will have to come on the nights of February 7 or 8 (total required roof time about 1 hour). You will have to turn in a write-up (not too long) that includes a description of what you did and what you found.

And what about the final paper? I will give you more information about the final paper assignment in a month or so. A list of possible topics (to give you an idea of the sort of thing) are here. The idea behind the paper is to give you a chance to do a different kind of thinking and allow you a different way to present your ideas. There is a possibility that the final papers will be group projects, and/or that you will be asked to make oral presentations of your paper (these possibilities depend on the flow of and enrollment in the class).

A note about working together: Science works by sharing ideas. I encourage you to work together in this class. However, anything that has only your name on it should be written by you and you alone. This goes for homeworks and the final paper and of course the midterm and the final. Let me be clearer about the homework assignments: I encourage you to work together on these, by which I mean that you can discuss the best way to do the questions and compare answers. However, after working together, you should then write up your assignments by yourself. You should not have identical answers to anyone else in the class. If you do, you have cheated and perhaps plagiarized. This is absolutely not allowed in this class or this University.

If you have any questions about what all this means - especially about working together on homeworks - please, please come talk to me.

The course web page: I will put everything for the class on BlackBoard at:
This includes this syllabus and the course outline; lecture notes; homework assignments and solutions; figures, images, and pictures I use during class; any supplemental materials; and other stuff. I will also put interesting newsflashes here, both related to assignments (example: ``I screwed up on the homework assignment and meant to write Earth instead of Moon'') as well as Astrobiology in the News (example: ``NASA's Spirit rover to look for evidence of water on Mars''). I recommend that you check this web page once or twice a week. Just bookmark it and check to see if there is anything new that you should know about.

Come talk to me: I want to hear if you are having fun in this class, or hating it; if you are learning stuff, or hopelessly confused, or just bored. I want to hear suggestions, and I want to learn your names and who you are. Hopefully you'll want to come to my office and learn about all the cool stuff we are working on and why I care about astrobiology. I like going for coffee. Don't be shy.

Bonus material

How to succeed in this class

Back to Lecture 1 outline

Back to main course page

Last modified: 12 Jan 2006