The cosmic evolution project conducts secondary research on the composition, structure, and evolutionary processes and history of the Earth and the universe from the Big Bang to big brains and artificial intelligence. The project organizes and hosts inspirational special events, designs educational models and games, and maintains a website that supports courses on advanced topics. The focus should be on the sequence of historical events and underlying physical processes themselves rather than the scientific methodologies and evidence used to discover nature’s secrets.
Cosmic Evolution Secondary Research explores the evolution of the universe and Earth
secondary research goals: The National Academy of Sciences says that the role of science is to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. The goal of our cosmic and global evolution secondary research is to develop and maintain online multimedia educational materials to help current and future scientists explore and explain the composition, structure, and evolutionary processes and nearly 14 billion year history of the universe and the nearly five billion year history of the Earth, its geobiosphere, and its diverse kingdoms of life.
explanations and insights: The research will develop in-depth scientific explanations of what nature does and how natural systems evolve in addition to the traditional emphasis on description. The mission is broad, open ended, and ill-defined. This project does not conduct primary research or the collection of new data from novel experiments. Rather it pursues a vital aspect of knowledge development, the analysis and synthesis of previously published data into new understandings. This work offers opportunities to develop new insights into what nature does.
evolutionary processes: Natural systems evolve under the influence of cosmological, astrophysical, geophysical, biogeochemical, and/or biological processes. Astrophysicist Eric Chaisson is the author of a cosmic evolution book that explains how islands of complexity can exist for long periods of time in an otherwise sea of chaos. The second law of thermodynamics allows simple building blocks to evolve into stable complex systems when energy flows export entropy. In other words, when energy flows, complexity grows.
cosmic and global evolution: Cosmic evolution secondary research can help explain how the universe in general and its particles, cosmic web, galaxies, black holes, stars, planets, moons, gases, and dust evolved from primordial quantum fluctuations in the isotropic, nearly homogeneous, hot, dense universe that followed the Big Bang. Global evolution secondary research can help explain how the Earth, its geobiosphere, and emergent properties from cells to organisms, kingdoms, ecosystems, brains, and tools evolved from diversification and selection processes involving cosmic, astrophysical, geophysical, biogeochemical, molecular, cellular, multicellular, and ecological evolution.
Earth and life: The composition, structure, and evolutionary history of the solar system influenced the origin and evolution life. The Sun, Earth, and Moon are obviously important, but so are objects small and large from interplanetary gas and dust to asteroids to giant planets and even distant giant stars that lived and died far from our solar system. Numerous global and local catastrophes and mass extinctions affected the diversity of life throughout history. The first two billion years of Earth history included the Hadean and Archean Epochs in which the Earth itself played the central role in the origin and evolution of early cells. The last 2.5 billion years included the Proterozoic and Phanerozoic Epochs in which life itself played a central role in the coevolution of the planet and life.
analysis and synthesis: We may analyze and synthesize material from textbooks, websites, peer reviewed research, YouTube videos, Wikipedia articles, and simulation models to create educational materials and tell stories based on the principles of thematic interpretation. Our stories focus on what nature does, not the evidence or methods scientists use to discover nature's secrets. We may develop educational models and games, consult with leading scientists, organize student faculty special events, and develop educational resources for a website or advanced topics courses. The materials we develop are designed to spur curiosity in the natural world and generate a greater understanding of the processes behind everything from the early evolution of the universe to the evolving diversity of life on Earth.
questions we ask: This is an interactive curiosity-driven process - the questions we ask guide our research and our research generates more questions. How did radiant energy, dark matter, normal matter, and dark energy coevolve with our universe? How did large scale structures form and evolve and how did they assume their current forms? What did the cosmic web look like billions of years ago? How do galaxies, stars, and planets form and evolve? How do the composition and structure of a pre-supernova star change over time and what processes determine its evolution? How did the Sun, Earth, and Moon form? How did other objects in our solar system affect the evolution of our planet and its biosphere? How did the chemical composition of early Earth affect the trajectory of life on Earth? What is the origin of life? How did simple cells evolve into complex cells and organisms? How did Earth and its oceans and atmosphere coevolve with prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and its diverse kingdoms?
guiding philosophy: We are guided by the wisdom of statistician George Box, who said, all models are wrong, but some are useful, and by David Epstein’s book Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world, which describes the benefits of gaining experience in cross training and interdisciplinary scholarly efforts. Our communication is guided by Dr. Sam Ham’s principles of thematic interpretation for good storytelling to non-captive audiences. We collaborate with scientists, educators, and students who share our interest in cosmic and global evolution.
We want educators to explore and explain cosmic evolution
The project is affiliated with CESAME, the Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education which has a webpage at https://cesame.calpoly.edu/cosmic-evolution-project that summarizes opportunities for scientists, educators, and students to participate in our projects. These include secondary research, analysis of simulation data, synthesis based on the principles of thematic interpretation, mentors and interns, design of educational models and games, and multimedia science communication. Additional information is available at https://evolution.calpoly.edu/purpose.
We are developing educational resources for courses on advanced topics including 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 outline is on the SAGE webpage at https://evolution.calpoly.edu/sage.
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.
The cosmic evolution project sponsors a popular consulting guest speaker in early October in a venue like Spanos Theatre. The project organizes three quarterly faculty-student special events per year: Dark Matter Day near Halloween, Darwin Days in February, and Earth Days in April. 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.
We had a Darwin in the Garden walk in the Leaning Pine Arboretum on February 19: https://evolution.calpoly.edu/darwin-garden. We have not scheduled any other events yet for 2022, but we are hoping to resume long delayed talks in Spanos Theatre this fall. We are sponsoring faculty activities to develop a BIO 472 advanced topics course on Botanical Coevolution in conjunction with the new plant conservatory opening this year. We are also sponsoring development of a cosmic evolution advanced topics course, currently focused on the composition, structure, and evolutionary processes and history of the cosmic web.
Doomsday for Dinosaurs - a melodrama in four acts
Friday February 26, 2021 at 5 pm PST exclusively at the Gem Theater in Utah, but will be embedded on the dinosaur webpage https://evolution.calpoly.edu/dinosaurs which is under construction. We plan to live stream on Zoom for the public in a month or so because of the pandemic.
The Evolution of Evolution: Darwin Then and Now
Thursday, Feb 25th at 7 pm
- By Dr. David Reznick
Time: Feb 25, 2021 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Dr. David Reznick is a Distinguished Professor from UC Riverside and the Director of the Network for Experimental Research on Evolution.
“Darwin’s book was misnamed, because it is … not a treatise on the origin of species.” -Ernst Mayr, 1942
Ernst Mayr was one of the foremost evolutionary biologists of the 20th century and a major figure in shaping our modern concept of species and speciation. When I read this quote it distressed me, since I thought that Darwin wrote about the origin of species. It took me over 20 years to reconcile Darwin and Mayr and to confirm that The Origin of Species was indeed about the origin of species. Doing so means envisioning the Origin’s place in a stream of science. There were concepts of species and speciation before Darwin, but Darwin’s vision forever changed our thinking. The scientists who followed did not see the Origin as a statement of truth, but rather as a challenge to first ask if Darwin was correct, then to study the consequences of what Darwin referred to as “transmutation.” In the process, the theory of evolution evolved, as did our understanding of what a species is and how speciation occurs. Mayr’s statement is a measure of the divide between Darwin’s understanding of speciation in 1859 and Mayr’s in 1942. Evolution has continued to evolve since Mayr. In my talk, I will describe Darwin’s accomplishment, how it departs from his predecessors, and how our understanding of evolution evolved after Darwin.
Darwin's birthday was February 12, 1809
In future years, we hope to sponsor special events in person featuring short faculty talks on evolution, guest speakers, and original faculty student events on topics such as the evolution of marine mammals like the elephant seal or even “The Coevolution of Plants and Animals”, highlighting 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 annual Spanos talk featuring Cal Berkeley astrophysics professor Alex Filippenko originally scheduled for October 5, 2020 has been postponed until 2022 due to the pandemic.
Are viruses good or bad?
Marine science major Alyse Handley and physicist Bob Field gave this talk to 150 freshman biology majors on October 28 via Zoom. Viruses are essential to the origin, evolution, and well being of life on Earth. Our virus page is under construction at https://evolution.calpoly.edu/virus. The page has a gif illustrating the NetLogo game we designed. The first accordion below the gif has our three part talk on viruses including PowerPoint slides and the game. The subsequent accordion blocks contain almost all of the images from the talk as well as detailed explanations. Two brief YouTube videos by the Amoeba sisters are embedded at the bottom of the page.
We are stardust
November 2, 2019 talk was repeated for the Central Coast Astronomical Society on March 26 in a special live-stream event watched by 200 people. The recording has been embedded on the stardust webpage at https://evolution.calpoly.edu/stardust.
On the week of Darwin's birthday, February 12, 2020, we sponsored another special event featuring a series of short faculty talks on evolution and another walk in the Leaning Pine Arboretum.
On Wednesday October 9, 2019, UC Santa Cruz astrophysics department chair Raja Guha Thakurta gave a talk in Spanos Theatre entitled "The Universe of Galaxies: Dark Matter, Cannibalism, Black Holes, Gravity Waves, and the Periodic Table of Elements".
We thank everyone who made Raja's Spanos talk so successful - 416 attendees !!
On November 2, 2019, our fall faculty-student special event in Baker room 180-101 entitled "We are stardust" explored and explained the cosmic origins of the Periodic Table elements from the Big Bang to exploding stars. We discussed stellar and nuclear astrophysical processes. The talk was given by Bob Field, Jonathan Hood, and Liam Cox.
About 70 attendees celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon missions at our free public lecture “Apollo 10: Fly me to the Moon” on Wednesday May 22 in Baker room 180-101. Speakers included Bob Field and David Kozuch. Highlights included videos and posters of the Apollo 10 and 11 missions, the origin and co-evolution of the Moon and Earth, and the influence of the Moon on life on Earth. Apollo 10 was the dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. On this date 50 years ago, two astronauts entered the lunar module and descended to within 8.4 miles of the surface of the moon.The flyer and additional information is at https://evolution.calpoly.edu/moon.
In our first year with an endowment, we had two major events, our first Spanos Theatre invited talk was by Amherst College astronomer and exoplanet hunter Kate Follette and our first student faculty event was a six hour open house in Chumash auditorium to celebrate Dark Matter Day on Halloween.
How We Find Planets around Other Stars
For detailed information see our webpage https://evolution.calpoly.edu/exoplanets
Dark Matter Day open house
This six hour event was held in Chumash auditorium and included many poster displays, exhibits, a PowerPoint show, and Halloween treats. Visit our webpage for all the information https://evolution.calpoly.edu/dark-matter-day including pictures and a great Q&A section. Many students participated by doing research for credit, through summer internships, by making posters, and by giving poster talks. Researchers included Michael Menhennet, Liam Cox, Nicholas Trautman, Max Milliman, and Scott Pirkle, most of whom gave poster talks at this event or at the Frost symposium. Jonathan Hood and others also spoke.
1998 - 2017
Darwin's bicentennial, February 12, 2009
This was one of our first special events billed as an evolution event. It included a library poster display and talk and a walk in Leaning Pine Arboretum which provided many of the settings for the poster display.
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 a faculty website that no longer exists. 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.
Diversity of Life TBD
Complexity of Life TBD
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.