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Course Information

Instructor Info:Salman Hameed
Office Extension x6160
Jason Tor
Office Extension x5323
M. Dyar
Caleb Fassett
TA Info:Allison Burhoe
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Monday
07:00 PM - 09:40 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) WLH

Are we alone in the universe? The essence of that question has likely been a source of inspiration since the dawn of humanity. The modern science of astrobiology is a transdisciplinary study of extraterrestrial life in the universe drawing from active research in astrophysics, biology, chemistry, and geology. A microbiologist, an astronomer, and a planetary scientist have teamed up to take you through this inter-disciplinary course, where we will look at the history of extraterrestrial debate and analyze the science behind astrobiology. We will investigate the properties of life as we know it and extrapolate these properties to consider the potential for simple life forms to exist on Mars and elsewhere in our solar system, to the possibility of intelligent life on habitable planets near distant stars, and finally the implications of extraterrestrial life to life on Earth.

Evaluation Criteria:

Evaluations in this class will be based on four different components:

  1. Attendance and participation in class discussions
  2. Weekly collaborative assignments that ask probing questions about the weekly readings
  3. At least three in-class individual assessments
  4. Two research papers and a film response paper

Readings & class participation: You are expected to have read the assigned reading for each class, and come prepared to participate in the class discussion.  Your class participation will be part of your final evaluation.  You may also be asked to lead a class discussion during the semester.

Weekly collaborative assignments: When you arrive in class each week, you will be handed a sheet of discussion questions that should help focus your thinking about the topic of the week.  We will spend the first 15 - 30 minutes of each class working collaboratively in groups of 2 - 4 students discussing and then writing answers to those questions.  These will be handed in and graded.  Those ideas will also form the basis for that week's discussions in class.

In-class assessments: There will be at least three in-class assessments given during the semester.  These assessments will cover material in the current week's reading assignments as well as previously-discussed material from the class.  Please come to class prepared!

Research Papers: There will be three extended papers assigned over the course of the semester covering different topics discussed in the class.  Due dates and times for these papers are on the class schedule (see below).  All papers must be submitted online to Moodle and no late papers will be accepted. No exceptions! All papers must be in either PDF or Doc format. Papers must not exceed the required length, which is 5 pages for NS257 and 10 pages for NS337.  Papers should use 1.5 space line spacing, have 1" margins, and use 12 pt. font.  There should be a page number on each and every page.  Your paper must have a title.  Ideas from the primary literature should be cited within the text and a full reference list must be included at the end of each paper.  You may use any consistent format for the references.

For Hampshire Students

In order to receive an evaluation you must complete all work on time, attend class, and hand in a final portfolio. In order to receive a designation of 'satisfactory completion' you must meet all of the requirement and your work must show sufficient effort and proficiency with the general themes of the class.  If you miss more than one class, you will not recieve an evaluation (remember: the class only meets once a week).

For Five-College Students

You will receive a letter grade at the end of the semester.  Your grade will be lowered if you miss more than one class during the semester (remember the class only meets once a week).

General Class Policies

  • All assignments are due on the class Moodle site on the specified due date; late work will not be accepted unless you have spoken with us prior to the due date, and we have agreed to an alternate due date.  If, due to serious illness, death in the family or other tragedy, you miss significant class meetings and/or assignments, please notify us as soon as you can.
  • You are expected to arrive on time and attend every class period prepared to discuss the material assigned for that day.  If you miss more than one class, your final evaluation/grade will be serious affected and could result in failing the course.
  • Class discussions should be a comfortable arena for sharing ideas, and every member of the class should feel respected and included in the discussion.  The topic of extraterrestrial life can sometimes be a sensitive topic, so it is particularly important to be mindful of this, and respectful of your classmates' ideas and contributions to class discussion.  Be thoughtful and courteous in making your own comments, and be sure everyone has a chance to contribute.

Plagiarism is a serious offense and will not be tolerated. If a student is found guilty of plagiarism, he or she will not receive an evaluation for this class and the case will be brought before the Dean of your home institution.

Additional Info:


Readings are available on the course webpage for each class period (see below).  You will also be expected to find and read articles in the primary literature relating to the topics of your three major papers.

E-mail Policy

  1. We are happy to answer your questions over e-mail.  However, before pressing the send button, please think: Is the information you are seeking already available elsewhere (for example on the syllabus)?
  2. Please send your email to only one faculty member (i.e. the person who is most directly related to your question).  If he/she thinks the others need to see it, they will share it.
  3. Please do not expect immediate response (please allow 24 hours for response before sending a reminder).
  4. All assignments must be turned in to the Moodle site.  If for some extremely unusual reason you have to send an attachment to us by e-mail, please cc: a copy to yourself.  We will not accept the excuse of forgetting to attach the assignment or some other e-mail malfunction.  It is your responsibility to make sure we have received the full assignment.  One of us will send you a confirmation e-mail.