BEES6741 – Astrobiology: Life in the Universe

Artist’s impression of an extrasolar planet discovered by the Kepler mission. (Credit: NASA)

BEES6741 – Astrobiology: Life in the Universe explores the study of life in the Universe and the chemistry, physics, and adaptations that influence its origin, evolution and destiny. It is an interdisciplinary science encompassing aspects of biology, chemistry, geology and astronomy. BEES 6741 is a BEES fully online third stage science elective created by the ACA. This six units of credit course has three assessment tasks that build one on the other to engage you with the nature of interdisciplinary science. There is no final exam. Typical comments from students:

  • "...the best course I've ever done, and I've done a lot"
  • "...very interactive and enjoyable"
  • "...best course for student support"
  • “…there’s no rote learning”

Astrobiology involves the origin, evolution and future of life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe. These key concepts are interconnected; for example, we need to understand the limits and workings of life on Earth before we can make decisions about how to search for life elsewhere. What is life composed of? Is there life that operates using something other than DNA? What are the limits on life in terms of temperature, pressure, water availability?

This dynamic course brings together geology, astronomy, biology, microbiology, chemistry, climate change, astrophysics, and the rise to intelligence on Earth in a mix that will take you from the earliest, most convincing evidence of life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago to searching for life on Mars and beyond among the stars.

Astrobiology is compelling, and so is the presentation of the course in short texts, pictures and short videos with primary cutting edge science reading materials to deepen your understanding of our origins and our place in space. There are two virtual experiences – an intelligent adaptive e-learning Virtual Field Trip, and an adaptive e-learning Virtual Lab experience. This course has been developed and adapted to how our students learn best in a digitally connected world.

Session 2, 2017

Study level: Undergraduate and Postgraduate

6 units of credit

Hours per week: 3 - fully online.

Number of weeks: 12.

Current handbook entry Current timetable Course outline - please contact Dr Carol Oliver

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: Dr Carol Oliver

What does this course cover?

Lectures topics will cover the origin of life and its philosophical implications, extremophiles, the tree of life, fossil records, the history and evolution of Earth and its biosphere, the interactions of life and its environment, the bid to find Earth-like extra-solar planets, planetary and galactic habitable zones, searching for life on Mars and beyond, and more.

Where does this course fit into my degree?

This science elective will provide an insight into your degree unlike any other subject. You will discover how life fits into the vast universe and understand the breadth and depth of the question “Are we alone?” For younger students, it seems very likely humans will visit Mars in your lifetime, and so will impact our off-planet thinking in the future. Astrobiology also provides insights into how your specific discipline fits into the other sciences by exploring the profound and compelling questions about the origin of life on Earth, the possibility of past or present life on Mars, and into the wider cosmos in the search for intelligent civilisations elsewhere through the interdisciplinary lens of geology, microbiology, evolution, geochemistry, climate change, astrophysics and astronomy.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

The pre-requisite for the course is 30 Units of Credit in science. However, if have taken the UNSW general education/first year science elective course PHYS1160 (Introduction to astronomy and the search for life elsewhere) and you have at least one full year of university experience then the pre-requisite can be waived. Cross-institutional students are encouraged.

Is there anything else I should know?

Practical work is all online. It will include readings, an essay, a virtual laboratory exercise, a small research project, and a 3-minute multimedia presentation, short quizzes and forums. There is no final exam.

Contact Dr Carol Oliver to see course outline or if you have any questions.

For non-UNSW students: please see the following information and application form for cross-institutional enrolment.


NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).