I retired from teaching in Spring 2016 after 25 years at Rensselaer. Two of the most popular courses I helped to create – “Earth and Sky” and “Origins of Life: A Cosmic Perspective” – will continue to be offered at RPI in future years.
An introduction to astronomy and planetary science from an observational perspective. Students learn the basics of observing the night-time sky, both with the unaided eye and through telescopic observation. Both terrestrial and space telescopes are considered, and the methods astronomers use to study planets, stars and galaxies are explained. The course also discusses what can be learned about the Earth and other planets in our Solar System by studying data from orbiting satellites and space probes. The nature and origin of our Solar System is reviewed and placed in context by comparison with the latest observations of planetary systems orbiting other stars. Finally, the question of how the Earth came to be a host for life and methods for detecting life elsewhere in our Solar System and beyond are discussed. The course is suitable for non-physics and non-science majors as well as those committed to specialization in Astronomy. Evening laboratory sessions are included. Fall term annually. 4 credit hours.
To understand the origin of life is a fundamental goal of science. This multidisciplinary course discusses the events and processes that led to the Earth becoming a habitable world, covering topics in physics, astronomy, earth sciences, chemistry and biology. Evidence is discussed for the presence of prebiotic molecules in the interstellar clouds from which new planetary systems are born. Cosmic and terrestrial sources of such molecules on the primitive Earth are compared to investigate whether they may have been an important resource for the origin of terrestrial life. The probability of finding life elsewhere in the universe is also considered. The course is intended for juniors, seniors or beginning graduate students with an interest in astrobiology. Spring term annually. 4 credit hours.