The mission of the cosmic evolution project is to provide inspiration, educational resources, and training to help students, scholars, educators, and researchers understand and explain the structure and evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to big brains. The vision of the project is to foster a robust scholarly community of faculty, staff, and students to analyze, synthesize, and disseminate a scientific narrative of the origin and evolution of natural systems.
Many of the videos embedded in this website are on the Cal Poly Cosmic Evolution YouTube channel which is at https://tinyurl.com/cosmicevolutionyoutube. You may have to click on the uploads button to see thumbnails of all of the videos.
upcoming cosmic evolution events through 2020
The cosmic evolution project plans to produce one event per year in early October in a venue like Spanos Theatre featuring a consulting guest speaker discussing the composition, structure, formation, and/or evolution of emergent systems like cosmic webs, galaxies, black holes, stars, planets, life, brains, and/or artificial intelligence. The project plans to produce three quarterly faculty-student special events per year to help students and others explore the evolutionary history of the universe, the web of life, and the Earth’s geobiosphere and repeat them with student help on Saturdays for high school students and others. Preparation should start at least one quarter before the quarter in which the event or activity occurs. Other events and activities may also be organized.
Here are the preliminary plans for the next five major cosmic evolution events:
- The spring 2019 faculty-student special event “Apollo: Fly me to the Moon” will be held in May to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon missions with a program on Apollo 10 and 11, the origin and co-evolution of the Moon and Earth, and the influence of the Moon on life on Earth.
- The October 2019 Spanos Theatre guest speaker event “Cosmogenesis: A Recipe for a Small Planet” will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table with a program on the cosmogenesis of the elements, the co-evolution of stellar populations and “empty space”, and the cosmic origins of the molecular building blocks of life.
- The October 2019 Dark Matter Days faculty-student special event “A Star is Born” will highlight the role of dark matter in forming large scale structures like the cosmic web, galaxies, stars, and planets by preserving the primordial quantum density fluctuations that appeared during the inflationary epoch in the tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang.
- The February 2020 Darwin Days faculty-student special event “The Coevolution of Plants and Animals” will highlight the evolutionary history of life. Topics may include the origin and evolution of molecular and metabolic building blocks of life, energy and entropy, photosynthesis and respiration, and/or relationships among organisms including endosymbiosis, cooperation, and competition.
- The April 2020 Earth Days faculty-student special event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a program called “Five Billion Years of Global Warming” that will highlight the role of plants and other photosynthesizers in regulating the composition and temperature of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.
We celebrated Darwin's 210th birthday with short talks by biology faculty on February 7 and "Darwin in the Garden: A walk through time" on February 8 in the Leaning Pine arboretum. Visit DarwinDays for more information and to see the flyer. We produced a walk brochure which we will post. The original Darwin in the Garden posters from the 2009 bicentennial are at DarwinGarden
also on a related note: Dr. Joseph Ross of Cal State Fresno gave a seminar entitled "The molecules that define races, species, and everything in between" on February 1 - the flyer is here.
What is the Cosmic Evolution Project? – click to expand or collapse
The project is a work in progress by Dr. Bob Field, Cal Poly physicist and research scholar in residence. As such, it has not been professionally reviewed by specialists in each and every field that is within its scope and in fact a major goal of going live online is to make the content and format accessible to potential reviewers around the world. So that is the caveat in using this material for research or advanced studies along with the obvious point that references and footnotes have been kept to a minimum to maintain the flow of big ideas.
The new project is an expansion of the Global Evolution Education Project which focuses on the five billion year natural history of planet Earth. This project and other natural history and natural science projects were extensively documented on his outdated faculty website at www.calpoly.edu/~rfield. Many students and a number of faculty have participated in this effort and their activities will be described as this website matures.
The cosmic evolution project provides educational resources to help students, educators, and the general public investigate the composition, structure, formation, and evolution of the universe in four overlapping domains: universe, solar system, Earth and geobiosphere, and brains and tools. The project provides timelines showing the sequence of key events in the evolutionary history of each of these domains.
The project supports upper division undergraduate student projects and courses and informal science education. The story of cosmic evolution involves astrophysical and biogeochemical materials and processes and emphasizes what nature does, not what scientists do. The National Academy of Science says that it is the role of science to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. That is to say that invoking unknown unobservable supernatural agents and processes is out of scope for a scientific endeavor until all other explanations have been definitively eliminated. And even then, a supernatural explanation would have to meet a set of plausibility criteria above and beyond mere supposition.
Unlike the wonderful Cosmos series on TV, this project focuses on the sequence of natural events themselves, rather than the role of science and scientists in discovering nature’s secrets. Cosmic evolution asks how stars and galaxies and life itself emerged from nothing. The ultimate question in Earth system history is how did a cold dilute cloud of gas and dust evolve into astronauts in a spacecraft orbiting a planet orbiting a star?
Universe – click to expand or collapse
The universe already has a 13.7 billion year evolutionary history from the Big Bang and the release of particles of energy and matter to the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies and the mysterious nature of dark energy and dark matter. Its history determines its ultimate fate in the distant future. A logarithmic timeline of the universe will be necessary to show the details of the early expansion while encompassing the vast time scale to the present and the ultimate future.
Solar System – click to expand or collapse
The five billion year history of the solar system involves the formation and evolution of the Sun, planets, moons, planetesimals, asteroids, comets, interplanetary gas, and dust. Transformations of energy and matter in the interior of the Sun and planets involve gravitational, electromagnetic and nuclear forces. Heat transport may involve thermal conduction, convection, and radiation. A logarithmic timeline best depicts this domain.
Earth and geobiosphere – click to expand or collapse
The five billion year history of the Earth and geobiosphere is best depicted by a linear timeline in equal 100 million year intervals depicting Earth's physical, chemical, and biological history including changes at major nodes in Blair Hedges molecular timescales. The timeline highlights the rarely discussed extraordinary events in the Proterozoic era and features plausible natural explanations of the underlying astrophysical, geophysical, biogeochemical, and ecological causes and/or consequences of molecular and metabolic evolution.
The emphasis is on the thermal structure and distribution and flows of energy and matter within the Earth’s lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, as well as the influence of the Sun, the Earth’s deep interior, other planets, and inflows of particles and objects. This domain encompasses the water cycle, carbon and other element cycles, biogeochemical processes, and the origin and evolution of the molecular, metabolic, and structural building blocks of life. Interactions of energy and matter drive microbial ecology, the evolution of complex cells and multicellular organisms, and the origin of kingdoms and phyla.
Brains and Tools – click to expand or collapse
Brains and tools involve the composition, structure, and evolution of neurons and biological and artificial neural networks from the simplest animals to the human brain, their ability to process sensory input and to control motor functions, and the development of tools to analyze, observe, and control the environment and transform the Earth and its lifeforms. A reverse order logarithmic timeline covers the evolutionary history of brains and tools from 3.4 billion year old bacterial membrane proteins that controlled the flow of ions to two billion year old eukaryote cells that generated electrical signals to 600 million year neural networks to complex animal brains to modern machines with exceptional computational powers.