program overview

What you will learn

You will learn why Earth looks the way it does, and why it is different from its neighboring planets (Venus, Mars).

What is the origin, structure, composition and dynamics of the Earth? What is the chemical make-up of the materials that compose the planet, their mechanical properties and how they operate and interact in different processes (e.g. weathering, denudation, plate tectonics, volcanism, metamorphism, etc.)?


Here, we will learn to examine the evolution of the Earth System through geologic time. We willfocus on major events in Earth history as recognized in the geological record.

-->  We will learn how the physical, chemical and biological “spheres” of planet Earth have interacted over time to induce change, or to respond to change. In fact, geology is unique among the sciences in that there is preserved an interpretable record of “deep time” that can be studied directly from geological materials (rocks, minerals, water, air and so on). Much current research in geology is to apply this knowledge to other solar system bodies such as Mars, the Moon, meteorites, etc. Indeed, what we have learned from spacecraft missions to other worlds has been applied back again to the Earth.

-->  We will see how Earth is a dynamic system which operates at the atomic scale to the whole planet. It is ever changing, including at this very moment. Look out the window, the weather is changes day-to-day, seasons come and go, the day/night cycle, etc. are all in interplay. This is a theme that you will hear many times over from me. Reinforcing that theme will be our exploration of how the planet came to be, and how the surface regions developed ever since life came on the scene sometime before about 4 billion years ago.

-->  Special emphasis will be placed on the major steps in the biogeochemical history of life and its continual evolution in the context of the changes in the planet itself. Geology makes use of many different disciplines in its investigative process such as Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics.

-->  You will gain a deeper understanding of the important concept of biological evolution. The term “Evolution” is simply defined as change over time of a system (whether biological, chemical or societal, or whatever). The concept of biological evolution is central to understanding the history of the Earth, its rock record and how it reached its present form, and indeed permits the existence of modern medicine and agriculture that sustains our 7+ billion human population. Without the basic knowledge of evolution, the world we have now would make no sense at all.

What is a “Theory”? 

Actually, the word theory implies NEITHER a guess nor a “hunch”. In science, a theory is a well substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses (advocated by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences).

-->  We will examine how geologists read the rock record, how they know the age of the Earth and solar system and the scientific methods of investigation used to arrive at these conclusions. We conclude the course by taking a look back at what we have learned and where we might be going, from the perspective of the theory of evolution. This concept is not an opinion, much like the theory of gravity and the theory of the electron. It is important to talk about this. As you might have heard some place or another, there are those who advocate one-or-another “creation” ideas or “intelligent design” and so on. These ideas are based on un-testable supernatural causes that we are therefore unable to discuss. These concepts are not part of science, and in some extreme cases have been used to challenge science as a whole.


I think it is important for you to understand the basis of modern evolutionary thought no matter what your background is. Think about this: If you have ever ridden in an automobile or an airplane, or talked on a mobile phone, or used a light switch, it is because science has revealed the physics and chemistry of the natural world.

Your iPad might be cool, but it is not magic.

Right? These things are just sophisticated electronics directed by software. What is an electron? Nobody has ever actually even seen an electron, but you rely on electronics every day. At least inbiological evolution, we can see it happening around us and look for evidence of it in the past.


There is a difference between understanding something and believing in something. The focus of science is to try to understand. I am here to help. My job is to show you what has been found so far.