2012 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: Undergraduate Education in Astrobiology

Project Progress

Undergraduate education in Astrobiology is a vital component of the education and training plan of the New York Center for Astrobiology, enabling us to reach a wide range of students that include both future researchers in Astrobiology-related fields and future professionals pursuing a broad range of careers in STEM and other disciplines. Our course offerings include an upper-level undergraduate 3-credit course “Origins of Life: A Cosmic Perspective” at RPI (instructor: Doug Whittet, spring semester annually) and a lower-level undergraduate 3-credit course “The Search for Life beyond the Earth” at the University at Albany (instructor: John Delano, fall semester annually). Note that RPI and U Albany bear the cost of these activities, as approved components of their curricula, so there is nothing to report in the “costs” section. Two further related elements (undergraduate research in Astrobiology, and the Origins of Life Seminar) are described in separate reports.
Origins of Life: A Cosmic Perspective
This course has been taught at RPI for many years (since the mid 1990s) and has evolved from a special-interests topic in Astronomy to a fully-fledged interdisciplinary course in Astrobiology. It is aimed at upper-level undergraduates and beginning graduate students in STEM disciplines. A total of 14 students (13 undergraduates + one graduate) completed the course in Spring 2012, The students’ mean evaluation of the course was 4.75/5.0. The following comments are quoted from the student evaluations:
“I really enjoyed this course and the course material. The subject matter was something of extreme interest to me and I believe it was taught well.”
“Dr Whittet is very knowledgeable over all of the material which for the most part is cutting edge research in the various fields. We had several visiting researchers give seminars which were usually very interesting as well.”
The Search for Life beyond the Earth
This introductory 3-credit undergraduate course was first taught in Fall 2010 and ran for the second time in Fall 2011. Please refer to the 2010/11 annual report for detailed discussion of the operation of the course. The enrollment in Fall 2011 totaled 165 students (similar to last year), the large majority of whom were first- and second-year non-science majors. The students’ mean evaluation of the course was 3.7/5.0.