Big Ideas
How old is the universe? What is the nature of life? How has life evolved on Earth? What are our human origins? Are there other habitable planets in the universe?

These fundamental questions revolve around understanding origins from different perspectives: astronomy & physics, geoscience, biology, chemistry, and anthropology. In this course, students will work together with faculty from across several different departments to investigate these questions. We will use inquiry-based activities to build success in critical thinking, teamwork, and effective written and oral communication.

Topics include the origin of the universe, the biochemistry of life and the origin of life on Earth.


MAUI (Course Catalog)

[TILE origins]

Designed for first and second year students, this course is intended to be taken over two semesters. Students should plan on taking the spring semester course (ASTR:1060). The spring semester course includes a 1 s.h. lab. If taken in its entirety (recommended), this course fulfills the 7 s.h. natural sciences GE requirement.


Fall 2015: ASTR 1060 (also BIOL, EES):

  • Cornelia Lang (Physics & Astronomy)
  • Andrew Forbes (Biology)
  • David Peate (Geoscience)

Spring 2016: ASTR 1061 (also, BIOL, EES, ANTH):

  • Cornelia Lang (Physics & Astronomy)
  • Andrew Forbes (Biology)
  • Drew Kitchen (Anthropology)
  • Mary Koslowski (Earth & Environmental Sciences)

Origins class exercise
Examples of title of in-class activities:

How does the DNA replication process actually work?
What are the most extreme forms of life on Earth?
Should humans colonize Mars?

Student Feedback [origins course]

Survey respondents from the Spring 2014 Origins class found the following

(41 respondents):

  • 73% agreed that course design (Big Ideas/TILE/interdisciplinary) greatly influenced their approach to learning and understanding the concepts.
  • 77% recommended the course to future students both out of interest as well as a way to fulfill the Gen Ed requirement.
  • 60% agreed that their perspective on science and science literature has changed due to this course.
  • 57% said it is likely they will take more science classes in the future. 

Origins students


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Big Ideas Courses
Big Ideas (BI) Courses are general education courses centered on themes rather than individual disciplines. These courses are team-taught across an array of disciplines, departments, and even colleges.