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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Physics and Astronomy : Undergraduate (School of Physics and Astronomy)

Undergraduate Course: Astrobiology (PHYS08051)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Physics and Astronomy CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Course typeStandard AvailabilityAvailable to all students
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Year 1 Undergraduate) Credits20
Home subject areaUndergraduate (School of Physics and Astronomy) Other subject areaNone
Course website None Taught in Gaelic?No
Course descriptionAstrobiology is an interdisciplinary science that examines the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the Universe. Areas that fall within its boundaries include the formation of planets and stars, the development of habitable conditions on planets, the origin of life, the evolution of life, life's limits in extreme environments and the potential for life beyond Earth. The course provides a framework for introducing a wide range of topics in astronomy, physics, earth sciences, chemistry, biology. Students will learn about cellular processes with a focus on the fundamentals of biological processes, the application of thermodynamics of biological systems and adaptations of life to extreme conditions. The course will provide a background to evolutionary changes in life during Earth's history and basic concepts in astronomy and planetary science that are applicable to the detection of Earth-sized planets around other stars. The course also covers the formation of stars and planets.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Additional Costs None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesPass at SQA Higher Maths, SQA Higher Physics or equivalent.
Displayed in Visiting Students Prospectus?No
Course Delivery Information
Delivery period: 2014/15 Semester 1, Available to all students (SV1) Learn enabled:  Yes Quota:  None
Web Timetable Web Timetable
Course Start Date 15/09/2014
Breakdown of Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 33, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 5, Summative Assessment Hours 12, Revision Session Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 144 )
Additional Notes
Breakdown of Assessment Methods (Further Info) Written Exam 75 %, Coursework 25 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S1 (December)Astrobiology2:00
Resit Exam Diet (August)Astrobiology2:00
Summary of Intended Learning Outcomes
- Demonstrate an understanding of basic properties of matter and key cellular processes.
- Demonstrate a basic understanding of planet and star formation and the conditions that give rise to habitable conditions.
- Understand the basic astronomical and astrophysical principles used in the search for earth-like planets around other stars and the search for biosignatures.
- Demonstrate an understanding of cellular organisation and complexity.
- Understand the key hypotheses in the origin of life and the characteristics of the 'tree of life'.
- Understand the physical basis of adaptations to extreme environments.
- Identify major time periods in the geological history of the Earth and the conditions in which early life arose.
- Understand how isotopic methods are used to date rocks and search for signatures of life in rocks.
- Identify the evolutionary transitions in the history of life on Earth, including the rise of oxygen and mass extinctions, and assess the reasons for their occurrence.
- Evaluate scientific evidence using the discussions about life beyond Earth as a means to understand scientific hypotheses, critical thinking and the rigour of the scientific method.
Assessment Information
25% Continuous Assessment
75% Examination
Special Arrangements
Additional Information
Academic description Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary science that examines the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the Universe.
Syllabus Basic Properties of Matter:
- Behaviour of gases, liquids and solids

Properties and relationships of life:
- Biological molecules, cells
- Energy acquisition by life
- The tree of life (phylogenetics)

Planets and star formation: Exoplanets
- Planet and star formation
- Solar System dynamics
- Detection of extrasolar planets, methods to find them and detect biosignatures

Origin of life
- Conditions during the first billion years of Earth history (Hadean)
- Hypotheses for the origin of life

Life in Extremes:
- Thermodynamics of life in extremes
- Biophysical adaptations to extremes
- Physical properties of extreme environments

History of Earth and Life and their co-evolution:
- Major geological periods in Earth history
- Radiometric and relative age dating of rocks (e.g. isochron method)
- Isotopic and other methods to find preserved life.
- The reasons for the rise of oxygen
- Mechanisms and significance of mass extinctions

Habitability of planets
- The habitable zone and conditions for liquid water
- Carbonate-silicate cycle and other factors that control habitability
- Conditions, past and present, on Mars and icy moons of the Solar System
- Methods to search for life beyond Earth
- Possibility of intelligence elsewhere.

Transferable skills - Ability to cross disciplinary boundaries
- Key concepts in geosciences, physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry related to understanding life in its astronomical context.
Reading list The course uses a new textbook: 'Astrobiology: Understanding Life in the Universe' by Charles Cockell to be published by Wiley/Blackwell in 2015.
Study Abroad N/A
Study Pattern Information provided in the Astrobiology Course Guide on joining (Lectures every Monday (14:10-15:00) and Friday (14:10-15:00 and 15:10 to 16:00), tutorials on Mondays (15:10-17:00)
Course organiserProf Charles Cockell
Tel: (0131 6)50 2461
Course secretaryMs Dawn Hutcheon
Tel: (0131 6)50 7218
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