David C. Catling
Investigation in detail of research topics of current interest.
This course reviews the latest geological, biological and chemical research on the most significant times in Earth's history when life grew more complex and the atmosphere and oceans changed from anaerobic to oxygenated. We also discuss the comparative evolution of Mars, the concept of "Snowball Earth", relevant microbiology, bioenergetic change, and thermodynamic metrics concerning what life is and the detection of life.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Each week, we will have a couple of lectures, followed by a discussion of a recent research paper.
Reading that should be undertaken prior to the course: • Andrew H. Knoll (2003) Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of the Evolution on Earth, Princeton University Press ($29.95) • Erwin Schrodinger (1992) "What is Life?" in What is Life? With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches, Cambridge Univ Press ($19). This general background to the nature of life is an old classic, originally published in 1944. Nobel prizewinner Schrodinger first said that life must run on some kind of "code" like a computer program, i.e., he introduced the term "genetic code" to the English language, but this work has also received criticism, which we will discuss.
Class assignments and grading
Students should select a topic to review for a term paper by the end of week 5. This written paper will be marked and will also be presented orally by the student in Weeks 10 or 11.
During research paper discussion sessions, students will be asked to present at least one research paper. This part of the course is graded to ensure well-prepared presentations. Research Paper Discussion: 15% Written term paper: 65% Presentation of term paper: 20%