AAS 204th Meeting, June 2004
Session 12 Undergraduate Astronomy Curriculum
Poster, Monday, May 31, 2004, 9:20am-6:30pm, Ballroom

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[12.06] Astronomical Ecosystems

D.E. Neuenschwander (Dept. of Physics, Southern Nazarene University), L.R. Finkenbinder (Department of Biology, Southern Nazarene University)

Just as quetzals and jaguars require specific ecological habitats to survive, so too must planets occupy a tightly constrained astronomical habitat to support life as we know it. With this theme in mind we relate the transferable features of our elementary astronomy course, “The Astronomical Basis of Life on Earth.” Over the last five years, in a team-taught course that features a spring break field trip to Costa Rica, we have introduced astronomy through “astronomical ecosystems,” emphasizing astronomical constraints on the prospects for life on Earth. Life requires energy, chemical elements, and long timescales, and we emphasize how cosmological, astrophysical, and geological realities, through stabilities and catastrophes, create and eliminate niches for biological life. The linkage between astronomy and biology gets immediate and personal: for example, studies in solar energy production are followed by hikes in the forest to examine the light-gathering strategies of photosynthetic organisms; a lesson on tides is conducted while standing up to our necks in one on a Pacific beach. Further linkages between astronomy and the human timescale concerns of biological diversity, cultural diversity, and environmental sustainability are natural and direct. Our experience of teaching "astronomy as habitat" strongly influences our "Astronomy 101" course in Oklahoma as well. This “inverted astrobiology” seems to transform our student's outlook, from the universe being something “out there” into something “we’re in!”

We thank the SNU Science Alumni support group “The Catalysts,” and the SNU Quetzal Education and Research Center, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica, for their support.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: dneuensc@snu.edu

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