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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
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Year 1 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryAstrobiology 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 on other planets. The course provides a framework for introducing a wide range of topics in astronomy, physics, earth sciences, chemistry, biology at introductory level. Lectures study the structure of life, the origin of life, past and present conditions on Mars and icy worlds such as Europa, the search for extrasolar planets and the possibility of detecting signatures of life elsewhere.
Course description 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.

Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary science that examines the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the Universe.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements It is recommended that students have Higher or GCSE maths, or equivalent.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesIt is recommended that students have Higher or GCSE maths, or equivalent.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  204
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 33, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Summative Assessment Hours 12, Revision Session Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 139 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 75 %, Coursework 25 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 25% Continuous Assessment
75% Examination
Feedback Not entered
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S1 (December)2:00
Resit Exam Diet (August)2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate an understanding of basic properties of matter and life
  2. Demonstrate a basic understanding of planet and star formation and the conditions that give rise to exoplanets and habitable conditions.
  3. Understand some of the hypotheses about the origin of life and evidence for early life in the rock record
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Reading List
The course uses the textbook: 'Astrobiology: Understanding Life in the Universe' by Charles Cockell published by Wiley/Blackwell in 2015.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - An enthusiasm for looking at interesting questions that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries.
Study Abroad N/A
Course organiserProf Charles Cockell
Tel: (0131 6)50 2461
Course secretaryMs Louise McCarte
Tel: 0131 668 8403
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