Astro 2037    Life in the Universe, Spring 2014 Syllabus

Prof. Jian Ge, 304 Bryant Space Science Center, 352-294-1850,

Teaching Assistant: Han Zhang, 311 Bryant Space Science Center, 352-294-1853,

Class meetings:
Three times a week, 11:45-12:35pm,12:50-1:40pm Tuesday, 12:50-1:40pm,Thursday, FLG 260

Office Hours:
Jian Ge, Mondays, 3:00-5:00pm

Han Zhang, Fridays, 2:00-4:00pm

Jian and Han are available anytime by email; please write "Astro 2037" in the Subject line of email correspondence.

Recommended Astronomy Courses Taken before:
Astro 1002.

Text (required):
The Search for Life in the Universe, Donald Goldsmith & Tobias Owen, 3rd edition, University Science Books, 2002

Reference book (strongly recommended):
Life in the Universe, Bennett & Shostak, 2nd edition, Pearson Addison Wesley (2007)

Web site:
Course information is available at the above site. Class notes, class presentations, and grades will be available on-line at a secure course web site AST2037_note_2014.htm (Contact Prof. Jian Ge for password)

Credits: 3

Course description:
The possible existence of life beyond Earth is one of the most fundamental questions relating the human race to the physical Universe around us. While considerations of extraterrestrial life were in the domains of philosophy and science fiction in the past, today we have considerable scientific knowledge that can be applied to the question. Advances in modern astronomy have dramatically improved our understanding of our cosmic surroundings; in particular, direct evidence for planets around other stars has emerged in the past two decades. Progress in astrochemistry, planetary science, meteoritics, biochemistry, paleontology, and evolutionary biology have given much insight (though not a complete understanding) on how life arose on Earth and constraints on life elsewhere in our Solar System. Together, the evidence is consistent with the existence of life elsewhere in the Galaxy, leading to astronomical efforts to search for extraterrestrial life principally using radio telescopes. Interstellar space travel between habitable planets, by humans or other beings, is exceedingly difficult but not physically impossible. The course includes historical and philosophical reflections on the existence of life in the Universe. Students will learn from reading the text, classroom presentations and discussions, and preparing a project paper on a specific research topic.
Along the way, we will use and practice critical thinking skills and learn how to formulate empirically testable hypotheses.

General Education:

AST 2037 is a GenEd physical science (P) course.  

Course and Gen Ed Student Learning Objectives & Outcomes:

         To provide students with a broad overview of modern astronomy and basic understandings about physics, chemistry, geology, and biology related to life phenomena in the universe.  This will be accomplished through lectures, weekly reading assignments, homework and a research project.  Students will be able to define common astronomical terms and explain basic concepts and theories for a range of astrophysical phenomena related to life in the universe.

         To teach students the scientific process and how we can understand life phenomena in the universe using basic physical, chemical and biological laws derived on Earth. This will be accomplished through lectures, in-class discussions and presentations as well as homework assignments.  Students will gain an understanding of how the scientific method is applied to the field of astronomy and study of life phenomena in the universe.

         To review the major scientific developments in astronomy related to life in the universe and summarize their impacts on society and our environment such as recognizing our place in the Universe, addressing "are we alone?", and understanding how planet environments affect life formation and evolution, and how atmospheric effects of planets influence climate change.  Students will be able to critically evaluate the difference between good science and bad science. Evaluations will be based on in-class discussions, homework, quizzes and a research project.

         To teach scientific reasoning. Scientific reasoning is the use of logic, observations, and critical thinking to interpret the world around you. This will be accomplished through in-class discussions, homework assignments and the research project. Students will formulate empirically-testable hypotheses derived from the study of physical, chemical and biological processes and phenomena and apply logical reasoning skills through scientific criticism and argument. These skills will serve students well in their daily lives regardless of what career a student pursues.  

         To improve scientific literacy. Literacy in the basic concepts and terminology of science is necessary if a student wishes to follow science stories in the news or make informed decisions (such as voting) on issues that pertain to science. This will be accomplished through in-class discussions about current news topics in astronomy and as part of the research  project.

         To help students learn to communicate scientific ideas clearly and effectively using oral, written and graphic forms. This will be done through in-class discussions (oral) and as the term paper and presentation of the research project.


Student responsibilities and grading:

40%    Homework (10)

Homework will be based on materials covered in the lecture and textbook. Homework problems will be assigned nearly weekly, with typical 10 calendar days from assignment to due date.


(1). Homework (HW) is due electronically before a class.

(2). Late HW may be turned in with a 20% penalty up to 24 hours after the due time.

(3). Later HW may be turned in with a 40% penalty up to two days late

(4). After that, HW may be turned in for correction, but no score, unless a convincing explanation (such as an illness with a doctor's note) can be made

(5). If you can only complete part of the HW on time, please turn that part in when it is due; then continue to work on the remainder, which can be turned in late with the corresponding penalty.

30%    Brief quizzes (7)

Twenty-minute in-class quizzes on 5"x8" cards will be given approximately biweekly. Content will focus on recently covered material: text, lectures, readings and discussions. Of the 7 quiz scores, the two lowest scores for each student will be dropped from the computation of the grade.

30%    Class presentation and a term paper

Every student will join one of the collaborative groups (2-3 students each) which will research any one of the topics related to life in the universe chosen by your group, prepare a paper, and make an in-class presentation on the specified date (see schedule). Papers will be 4 pages per person (excluding figures and references), typed and single-spaced with font 11 or 12. The paper can be a joint one by a group (4xN pages if a group of N) or an individual. Presentation duration will be determined by the class size and the group size. They need to be based on computer projection of PowerPoint. All members of a collaborative group or coauthors of a paper will receive the same grade, except under unusual circumstances. The presentation and paper will each be worth 15% of the course grade.


Note 1: There will be no final exam.

Grading scale:

Letter Grade

% Points


Letter Grade

% Points


Letter Grade

% Points






77 - 79



64 - 66



87 - 89



74 - 76



60 - 63



84 - 86



70 - 73



57 - 59



80 - 83



67 - 69



< 56



Attendance, Class Participation and Conduct Policy:

Make-up Policy:

Students are expected to complete all requirements by the specified due dates. If a student misses class or an assignment due to an excused absence as specified in the undergraduate catalog and provides the instructor with timely notification, they will be allowed a reasonable time to make up the missed work.

Academic Honesty Policy:

o   “Academic Honesty: The university requires all members of its community to be honest in all endeavors. A fundamental principle is that the whole process of learning and pursuit of knowledge are diminished by cheating, plagiarism, and other acts of academic dishonesty. In addition, every dishonest act in the academic environment affects other students adversely, from the skewing of the grading curve to giving unfair advantage for honors or for professional or graduate school admission. Therefore, the university will take severe action against dishonest students. Similarly, measures will be taken against faculty, staff, and administrators who practice dishonest or demeaning behavior.”

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities:

UF Counseling Services:

On-campus resources are available at the UF Counseling & Wellness Center (392-1575) for students experiencing personal or stress related problems.


Homework schedule

Tuesday Jan. 14, Due Jan. 23, Homework 1

Tuesday Jan. 28, Due Feb. 6, Homework 2

Tuesday Feb. 4, Due Feb. 13, Homework 3

Tuesday Feb. 11, Due Feb 20, Homework 4

Tuesday Feb. 18, Due Feb. 27, Homework 5

Tuesday Mar. 11, Due Mar. 20, Homework 6

Tuesday Mar. 18, Due Mar. 27, Homework 7

Tuesday Mar. 25, Due April 3, Homework 8

Tuesday Apr. 1, Due Apr. 10, Homework 9

Thursday Apr. 10, Due Apr. 22, Homework 10


Quiz Schedule

Tuesday Jan. 21

Tuesday Feb. 4

Tuesday Feb. 18

Tuesday Mar. 11

Tuesday Mar. 25

Tuesday Apr. 8

Tuesday Apr. 15


Papers due date

Tuesday Feb. 11

Project/paper working groups established

Tuesday Mar. 11

Titles, authors & brief outlines of papers due

Tuesday Apr. 29

Papers due electronically to


Class Schedule






1/7 (T)


Survey, Introduction, Martians?


1/9 (R)


Life on Mars?


1/14 (T)


What is life?

Review of modern astronomy




Birth of stars and planets


1/28(T),1/30 (R)

4, 5

Stellar evolution and origin of the elements

Life in the solar system




Overview and origin of solar system 




Atmospheres & habitability of Venus, Earth



13, 14

Life on Mars? Mars missions




Life on Europa? The giant planets and their moons

Life on Earth




Biochemistry and origins of life on Earth




Early life and evolution of life on Earth

Life in extrasolar planetary systems


3/25(T),3/27(R), 4/1 (T)

 10, 16

Can life exist around other stars? Search for extrasolar planets


4/3(R), 4/8(T)


Future detection of extrasolar planets from ground and space




Detection of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Student Presentations




Class presentations and discussions

Jian Ge, revised 2014-2-26