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

Postgraduate Course: Astrobiology Methods (PGPH11107)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Physics and Astronomy CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryThis course aims to provide a thorough grounding in the practice of contemporary astrobiology. Teaching and assessment will focus on methods, missions and instruments; debates and controversies; and the wider social and institutional contexts in which astrobiologists work (e.g., career pathways, research funding).
Course description This course aims to explain the methods that astrobiologists rely on across the breadth of the space sciences, environmental geosciences, and life sciences, while also exploring the institutional frameworks and approaches that facilitate progress in the field (including how space missions are selected, funded, planned and operated, and what career paths are open to astrobiologists).

Lectures will be supplemented by practical exercises focused on using some of the methods discussed, as well as seminar style sessions in which students will give assessed presentations based on papers in the published literature.

This course together with the Astrobiology Theory is designed to complement and unify the other taught components of the MSc and to support the production of the dissertation.

1. How astrobiology happens: institutions, agencies, missions, funding, and publishing; cautionary tales
2. Methods: observational astronomy
3. Methods: analogues in the field
4. Methods: "Mars jars" and planetary simulations
5. Methods: geochemical analysis
6. Methods: organic chemistry
7. Methods: microbial ecology
8. Methods: microbiology and molecular biology
9. Methods: synthetic biology
10. Methods: modelling and computation: geophysics
11. Methods: modelling and computation: biosciences
12. Methods: remote sensing and spectroscopy
13. Methods: sample acquisition, handling, and analysis
14. Methods: hypothesis testing and data visualisation
15. Methods: biosignatures and confidence in biogenicity
16. Space mission planning and operations
17. Spacecraft and instrument design and engineering
18. Human spaceflight and crewed exploration: what, why, how, where, when?
19. The space humanities from law to ethics
20. The future of life in the universe
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. identify the most useful and relevant field-, lab-, and computation-based methods for addressing a wide range of astrobiological research questions, using a critical understanding of the opportunities and limitations afforded by these methods, particularly in relation to planetary ┬┐analogue┬┐ environments and materials.
  2. critically evaluate the latest astrobiological research using a sound knowledge of the field/analogue, experimental, modelling/computational, analytical and telescope/spacecraftbased methodologies.
  3. explain how research in astrobiology and planetary science is funded and organised in the UK and internationally, including how space missions, spacecraft and their instruments are commissioned and developed through the collaboration of space agencies, research institutes, and aerospace engineering companies.
  4. identify and evaluate career opportunities in astrobiology and planetary science and understand the governmental, institutional, social and funding contexts that support these disciplines and their likely evolution over time.
Reading List
General reading:
McMahon, S. (2020) Astrobiology (Overview). Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Planetary Science.
Cockell, C. S. (2020). Astrobiology: understanding life in the universe. John Wiley & Sons.
Cockell, C. S. (2001). 'Astrobiology' and the ethics of new science. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 26(2), 90-96.

More specialist reading will be provided for each session.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills [Generic cognitive skills]
- identify, conceptualise and define new and abstract problems and issues.
- develop original and creative responses to problems and issues.
- critically review, consolidate and extend knowledge, skills, practices and thinking in the natural sciences.
- deal with complex issues and make informed judgments in situations in the absence of complete or consistent data/information.

[Communication, ICT and numeracy skills]
- communicate with peers, more senior colleagues and specialists.
- use a wide range of ICT applications to support and enhance their work.
- critically evaluate a wide range of graphical and numerical data.

[Autonomy, accountability, and working with others]
- exercise substantial autonomy and initiative in professional and equivalent activities.
- take responsibility for their own work.
- manage complex ethical and professional issues and make informed judgments on issues not addressed by current professional and/or ethical practices.
Keywordsspace,spacecraft,spaceflight,space exploration,terraforming,biosignatures,microbiology
Course organiserDr Sean McMahon
Course secretary
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