Cosmic Evolution Project Submenu Links - click to expand or collapse list

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expanding universe

particle evolution

structure formation

cosmic web




Milky Way Galaxy



stars and galaxies

Solar System






Ice Giants

Trans-Neptunian Objects

Asteroid Belt

Moons and Rings

Earth and Geobiosphere

Global Catastrophes

Ocean Science Quest

Darwin In the Garden

Cosmic Origins of Life




Diversity of Life

Complexity of Life







Organism Life Cycle

Ecosystem Evolution

Ecosystem Life Cycle

Brains and Tools


Brain Structure

Brain Cell Building Blocks

Brain chemistry and neuroplasticity

Brain Development

Brain Evolution

Brain Emergent Properties


Brain Life Cycle


Tools to expand sensory powers

Tools to expand physical powers

Tools to expand mental powers

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Selection

Socio-economic Evolution




Several links to projects are shown. Many more will be added eventually.


What is new?


cosmic evolution special event links


October 10, 2018 Spanos talk by Amherst Prof. Kate Follette


October 31, 2018 student-faculty Chumash open house


February 14-15, 2019 faculty talks and walk


May 22, 2019 Apollo 10 50th anniversary faculty-student talks, videos, posters


future events - preliminary plans:

October 16, 2019 Spanos talk on cosmogenesis of the elements by UCSC Prof. Raja

and November 2, 2019 “We are Stardust” student-faculty talks - click on timeline to see videos



password protected document at DarwinGardenPPTpw


Thanks to Bill Frost and the Cal Poly Frost Summer Research Program for giving our three students the opportunity to investigate the formation of the cosmic web and other large scale structures in the universe and the co-evolution of populations of stars and the interstellar medium. Under the supervision of Dr. Bob Field, a poster was created representing the work of the four of us and you can download the original PowerPoint slides from the poster here: cosmic evolution poster slides 2018-0809.

Here is a summary of the 30 slides in the poster. The long term goal of our project is to build simplified but plausible models that characterize the evolution of the universe from a homogeneous hot dense state to a web of stars and galaxies harboring planets and life separated by vast volumes of "empty space". This is very much a work in progress and our efforts will be updated periodically over the next two years. We have compiled a lot of astrophysical data and equations, but it will take a long time to stitch it all together.

The poster starts with a Mathcad analysis of the evolution of radiant energy, dark matter, baryonic matter, and dark matter from a cosmological perspective of an expanding and cooling flat homogeneous isotropic universe. Radiant energy was dominant for 50,000 years until the expansion of space reduced its importance as a result of the Doppler redshift. Matter dominated for another nine or ten billion years until its density decreased to the point where the constant density of dark energy began to dominate and accelerate the expansion of the universe.

When matter started to dominate, large scale structure began to form and dark matter was essential because it preserved primordial density fluctuations that baryonic matter lost due to its interactions with radiant energy. Ultimately, dark matter halos attracted baryonic matter to form the first stars and galaxies. The structure of the cosmic web in general and the Milky Way galaxy in particular are a result of these and other astrophysical processes. We are interested in modeling the relationship between dark matter halo density profiles and particle and star orbital paths.

Stars form from molecular clouds that condense from what we can call “empty space”. In our galaxy, stars are still forming in the interstellar medium of the thin disk that contains the spiral arms of the Milky Way. The most massive stars fuse all of the elements up to iron, not just helium from hydrogen. They live short lives because their fusion rate is so high and as they die, they turn into supernovas that form the remaining elements of the periodic table as they explode a lot of their mass into “empty space”.

This process enriches the interstellar medium with so-called metals (every element more massive than helium) which is then inherited by future generations of new born stars. By this process, a universe that was totally metal free when the first stars (known as Population III) formed became the breeding ground for the metal poor Population II stars found in the Milky Way and elsewhere and their ancestors enriched the interstellar medium for the current metal rich Population I stars.

This process involves the birth rate of stars, factors that set upper or lower limits on the their mass such as the Jeans mass and Eddington limit, the fusion rates, luminosity, and lifetime or death rate of stars, and the ejection of metals into the interstellar medium. We are continuing to piece together all of these factors and the underlying astrophysical processes and equations in preparation for additional analysis and modeling.

Thus it can be seen that successive populations of stars co-evolve with the interstellar medium from which they form. What astrophysical processes affect the co-evolution? Can we develop simplified numerical models of the processes? What determines the stellar birth rate? What affects the initial mass distribution of stars? Do the composition, density, and temperature of the interstellar medium set a lower bound for the initial mass distribution of stars via the Jeans mass? Does the Eddington limit set the upper bound? Can we model the Supernova ejections that enrich the metallicity of the interstellar medium for the “benefit” of future generations of stars? Do dwarf stars enrich the interstellar medium? What role do black holes play?


Project Title: Modeling the formation and evolution of emergent systems from cosmic webs to stars and planets

click to expand or collapse

Principal investigator: Dr. Bob Field, research scholar in residence and adjunct physics professor, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo CA

Desired number of participants: team of three including science and engineering students and/or experts

Background Information:

The mission of the cosmic evolution project is to provide inspiration, educational resources, and training to help current and future teachers, informal science educators, and others explore and explain the composition, structure and evolutionary history of the Earth and the universe from the Big Bang to big brains and AI. 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.

The project provides timelines showing the sequence of key events in the evolutionary history of each of these domains. The story of cosmic evolution is told from astrophysical, biological, and biogeochemical perspectives with emphasis on what nature does, not what scientists do.

The National Academy of Sciences says that the role of science is to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. Astrophysicist and cosmic evolution author Eric Chaisson asks how islands of complexity can exist for long periods of time in an otherwise sea of chaos. The short answer is that when energy flows, complexity grows. Cosmic evolution studies the emergence of complex systems from simple building blocks when natural processes dissipate energy and entropy. Cosmic evolution is a scientific narrative told from astrophysical and biogeochemical perspectives with emphasis on what nature does, not what scientists do.

Our cosmic evolution projects explore everything from cosmology to astrobiology and artificial intelligence, but the content is thematic rather than encyclopedic. Among other things, our projects will provide timelines showing the sequence of key events in the evolutionary history of the universe. We are focused on physical processes rather than the scientific methodologies and evidence used to discover nature’s secrets.

The principal investigator has a PhD in solid state physics and laser spectroscopy and has designed, built, tested, and operated optical instrumentation. His approach to systems analysis and project management is based on 20 years of teamwork designing, analyzing, and developing advanced laser optical systems and components for space based lasers and other aerospace systems. He has supervised student system analysis projects for 18 years at Cal Poly involving optics, heat transfer, Earth and planetary sciences, astrophysics, cosmology, oceanography, atmospheric physics, prebiotic biogeochemistry, and evolutionary biology. As an informal science educator for ten years, he prepared science based natural history lectures and hikes in the local state parks and museum, guest lectures, poster displays, and online educational materials.

Project Description: The long term goal of this project is to develop a conceptual design of a virtual interactive four dimensional journey through cosmic evolution from the Big Bang to big brains and artificial intelligence. The design will specify key events, materials, and processes influencing the formation and evolution of the universe. NetLogo and/or other software will be used to model the properties and behavior of emergent systems.

Students may review and evaluate current explanations of any of the following: the co-evolution of space and particles, the formation of cosmic webs, galaxies, stars, and giant planets, the biogeochemical evolution of rocky planets, the co-evolution of geospheres and biospheres, and the emergence of biological and artificial intelligence.

Students may learn to use and modify mathematical and modeling software like Excel, NetLogo, and/or Mathcad for simulation or animation of flows of energy and matter in complex natural systems. The guiding principle of system analysis is that, as statistician George Box says, “All models are wrong but some are useful.” Students will learn problem solving skills related to computer analysis, simulation, and animation. Most important they will learn how to simplify a problem in order to model the most significant components and processes. These skills and tools are important for applied research, technology development, system engineering, design and analysis, and education. Students may develop content for our cosmic evolution website at

Suggested and/or Required Background/ Skills/Courses: There are no specific course requirements. The project is truly a learn-by-doing experience. We are planning to build an interdisciplinary team. Participants may have backgrounds in the physical or biological sciences or in engineering or computer science. Participants should have a strong sense of curiosity, a desire to learn analytical and computer skills, an interest in developing and testing hypotheses, communication skills, and the ability to work independently and in a team environment. Patience and enthusiasm are virtues. Students may benefit from this project whether they are planning a career in education, research, technology development, or system engineering.

Web or Literature References: our cosmic evolution project website is at

Sample Project Questions: The project will focus on simulating the formation and evolution of natural systems using modeling software like NetLogo in order to provide new insights for researchers and educators addressing questions like the following:

  1. What is the difference between Big Bang Nucleosynthesis and stellar nucleosynthesis?
  2. How did dark matter cosmic webs dissipate excess energy and entropy and where did the excess go?
  3. How do stars and giant planets form and how does energy flow from their interiors?
  4. How do space and particles co-evolve?
  5. Does the expanding universe conserve energy?
  6. How do prebiotic geochemical processes produce the molecular and metabolic building blocks of life?
  7. How do polymers, membranes, self-replicating molecules, and self-organizing structures form?
  8. How do geobiospheres, organisms, and ecosystems co-evolve?
  9. What processes and conditions caused the fungus and animal kingdoms to diverge?
  10. How do biological brains and artificial intelligence co-evolve?


Extensive list of questions suitable for modeling space and particles, cosmic webs and galaxies, stars and giant planets, planets with geospheres and/or biospheres, life and intelligence – click to expand or collapse

Space and particles

  1. How do local density variations affect the local expansion and curvature of space?
  2. How does the expansion of space affect the density of matter and radiant energy?
  3. How does the very early expansion of the universe affect the abundance of elementary particles?
  4. What factors affect the rate of Big Bang nucleosynthesis of helium by fusion of protons and neutrons?
  5. How does the expansion of space affect the temperature of matter and the energy of photons and neutrinos?
  6. How has the size, mass, and content of the observable universe changed since the Big Bang?

Cosmic webs and galaxies

  1. How do dark matter and ordinary matter cosmic webs form?
  2. How did stable cosmic webs dissipate excess energy and entropy and where did the excess go?
  3. In what sense are energy and entropy conserved in the universe?
  4. How do galaxies form and merge?
  5. How do dark matter and black holes affect galaxies?

Stars and giant planets

  1. How can a star or giant planet form from a cold dilute cloud of dust and gas?
  2. How do stars and giant planets dissipate energy and entropy as they form and evolve?
  3. What affects the rate of stellar nucleosynthesis of helium by thermonuclear fusion of protons?
  4. How can stars disperse so-called metals to a later generation of stars?
  5. What factors affect energy flow in the interiors and atmospheres of stars and giant planets?
  6. What factors affect core accretion and gas capture in the formation of giant planets?
  7. How does the inverse square gravitational force affect the motion of objects large and small?

Planets with geospheres and/or biospheres

  1. What factors affect energy flow in the interiors, surfaces, and atmospheres of planets with geobiospheres?
  2. What factors affect the formation of a planetary core, mantle, and lithosphere?
  3. How do biogeochemical cycles affect the formation and evolution of planetary geobiospheres?
  4. How do radiant and thermal energy flows affect the evolution of planetary geobiospheres?
  5. What factors affect mantle convection, plate tectonics, and magma flows in rocky planets?
  6. What processes and conditions influence the formation of prebiotic organic molecules?
  7. What processes and conditions influence the polymerization of organic molecules?
  8. What processes and conditions influence the formation and evolution of lipid bilayer membranes?
  9. What processes and conditions influence the formation of folded polymers and helixes?

Life and intelligence

  1. How did protocells form and evolve into modern cells?
  2. How do neurons and neural networks form and evolve?
  3. How do organic polymers and neural networks acquire, store, retrieve, transfer, and process information?
  4. How do specialized cells and structures develop from an embryo or a set of stem cells?
  5. How do the molecular and metabolic building blocks of life evolve?
  6. How do microbial ecosystems form and evolve?
  7. How did complex eukaryote cells evolve from simpler prokaryote cells by serial endosymbiosis?
  8. How did multi-cellular organisms evolve from colonies of single-celled organisms?
  9. How do embryonic cells transform into different types of cells in an organism?
  10. How do microbial and multi-cellular organisms and ecosystems co-evolve?
  11. What processes and conditions caused the fungus and animal kingdoms to diverge?
  12. How do biological brains and artificial intelligence co-evolve?


Research Scholar's Talk "Prove you're not a robot"

Dr. Bob Field presented a research scholar's talk on November 1, 2016 entitled "Prove you're not a robot". The 25 chart RUA Robot PowerPoint slide lecture can be downloaded. A 30 minute narrated video of the lecture can viewed on the Cosmic Evolution YouTube channel (see link below) or at the video url The description of the talk is as follows: Our planet and our species evolved from elements  that were formed in and dispersed by supernovas. Now our fate depends on rapid advances in robotics, genetics, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience. Where are we going, physically, mentally, and spiritually? Do you have free will? Can robots have free will?

Dr. Bob Field presented a physics colloquium on May 12, 2016 and discussed the new website and current cosmic evolution projects for students and faculty. The colloquium was basically a tour of this website including two videos embedded at the bottom of the about page.

The current solar system work in progress is a 48 chart PowerPoint slide lecture on Jupiter (02.23.16 version) for an ASTR 301 class.

A Cal Poly Cosmic Evolution Project YouTube channel has been established at and its first video content has been uploaded and will be embedded in Cosmic Evolution Project webpages after some additional internal review. The banner for this channel is based on this triptych:

The three parts represent physics, chemistry, and biology. The upper left equation represents mathematics, cosmology, relativity, and nucleosynthesis. The solar system shown in this NASA drawing is the result of the evolution of generations of stars and the building blocks of its planets are shown in the periodic table. Their orbits served as the foundation of our understanding of laws of physics. The periodic table from Wikipedia shows relationships of the chemical elements and is color coded to show their evolutionary origins. My own photo of tide pool animals represents the evolution of the geobiosphere whose building blocks are shown in the periodic table. The sea star is an invertebrate closely related to chordates and remarkably it has eyespots and a complex nervous system, but no centralized brain. So our banner ranges from stars to elements made in stars to sea stars and our understanding of these things are products of our brains and tools.


Students and faculty may contact rfield at calpoly to discuss opportunities to explore cosmic evolution or to help develop this cosmic evolution project website.

Students may study the universe, solar system, Earth and geobiosphere, and/or brains and tools. Each domain represents increasing complexity and concentrations of energy flow. Students may prepare evolutionary timelines of key historical events and may also choose to develop math models of complex systems.

Projects may involve astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, or physics. Some projects may interest future science teachers. Students may earn credit for special problems or for a senior project. Some students may be eligible for part-time paid research in the summer or possibly during the school year. Additional information may be found at


Many previous projects have been documented on the faculty website There are three main sections:


Specific project documents are available as follows:


This schedule of events has not been updated since 2009:


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