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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Evolution of Life and Environment on Planet Earth (and Beyond)

As I have done after my previous three semesters in the Golden ID program, I have been reviewing my lecture notes and the text book for Geology 124.  The amount of material relating to both the physical and the biological sciences was significant but it was not all heavy.  How to cook rice, for example, was discussed (don’t stir it) as was the formation of soap bubbles and that shower curtains are a good environment for cyanobacteria.

For me, the course was ultimately about the growth of human knowledge about the universe around us.  The daily expansion of that knowledge was demonstrated by the discussions of the discoveries by the MSL Rover on Mars.  The class featured hands- on participation in observing and describing rocks on a field trip around campus and also by the collection of our hair samples for isotopic analysis.  From that data, students were required to create a hypothesis concerning “you are what you eat.”

Also stressed was the importance of the continued questioning of scientific hypotheses by identifying past hypotheses that took many years before general acceptance (such as continental drift) or a hypothesis that was recently created (such as snowball earth) which is now doubted by many.  A possible flaw in the most important biological hypothesis in history, evolution, was identified by its creator, Charles Darwin.  That possible flaw was eventually resolved by technical advances in microscopes, but Darwin had the intellectual honesty to first raise the question himself.

As someone whose last previous college course in science was during the Lyndon Johnson administration, I sometimes looked around at the young students and wondered what they would remember 45 years from now about Geology 124.  My bet would be that they will remember a lot.


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