What is the purpose of the cosmic evolution project?
cosmic evolution project purpose and plans
by project scientist and founder Bob Field revised 2019-06-01
Purpose: 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 cosmic evolution project has historically been a volunteer effort with occasional funding from a variety of sources and continues to operate independent of the cosmic evolution endowment.
Inspiration: The National Academy of Sciences says that the role of science is to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. Astrophysicist 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, biological, and biogeochemical perspectives with emphasis on what nature does, not what scientists do. Cosmic evolution projects explore how cosmic webs, galaxies, black holes, stars, planets, life, brains, and artificial intelligence emerged from primordial quantum fluctuations.
Educational resources: The website currently organizes cosmic evolution projects into four domains: universe, solar system, Earth and geobiosphere, and brains and tools. Each domain represents increasing complexity and concentration of energy flow. The content should be thematic rather than encyclopedic. Among other things, the project shall provide timelines showing the sequence of key events in the evolutionary history of each domain. The focus should be on the events and underlying physical processes themselves rather than the scientific methodologies and evidence used to discover nature’s secrets. Projects may explore the origin, evolution, diversity, abundance, and distribution of materials and processes in each cosmic evolution domain.
Interdisciplinary studies may involve cosmology, astrophysics, Earth and planetary sciences, geophysics, oceanography, atmospheric physics, biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, cell biology, biochemistry, neurobiology, astrobiology, artificial intelligence, and philosophy of mind. The project includes more technical and mathematically rigorous content than most informal science programs for the general public or most Big History studies, but its mission does not include support for peer reviewed primary research.
Training: Students may earn academic credit (ASTR or BIOL 200, 400, 404, 470, etc.) for projects that help advance cosmic evolution project goals. Typical projects will analyze and document the composition, structure, formation, and evolution of the universe from cosmic webs to galaxies, stars, and planets. Students may help create timelines of big historical events from the Big Bang to bigger better brains and artificial intelligence for a reference book. Students may use mathematical and modeling software (like Excel, NetLogo, and Mathcad) for simulation or animation of interactions of energy and matter in complex natural systems.
The guiding principle of system analysis is that, as statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong but some are useful.” Students may help develop educational resources in book form and on the website. Educators may teach a course on the composition, structure, origin, and evolution of the universe that explores space, particles, cosmic webs, galaxies, stars, giant planets, planets and moons with solid and liquid surfaces, prebiotic building blocks of life, geobiospheres, microbial ecosystems, complex life, and/or biological and artificial intelligence.
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
- 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. Events may be scheduled for multiple days; weekday or weeknight programs for the public, a colloquium or seminar, an outdoor program led by faculty or students, and/or a weekend program led by students for high school students, current and future high school science teachers, and informal science educators. Typically, a special event requires two quarters of effort, one for scholarly activities and one for pre-event training and post-event assessment. A faculty-supervised team of three students may earn academic credit while providing 360 student hours collectively. Other faculty and students may spend a few hours providing advice or help.
- October Dark Matter Days - astrophysics: evolutionary history of the universe from the Big Bang to the formation and evolution of cosmic webs, galaxies, stars, planets, “empty space”, the chemical elements, and the building blocks of life
- February Darwin Days - biology: origin and evolutionary history of the web of life and its tangled tree including their deep divergences and the symbiotic, cooperative, and competitive relationships among biological kingdoms, domains, and species
- April Earth Days - Earth sciences: origin and evolutionary history of the solid Earth and its hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere including flows of matter, energy, and entropy, and the origin and evolutionary diversification of prebiotic molecules, metabolic processes, and microbial and complex ecosystems
- collaborate with CESAME programs and other Cal Poly organizations to pursue common goals
- prepare slide shows, talks, poster displays, exhibits, videos, animations, simulations, workshops, print and website materials, hands-on activities, etc. for guest lectures, natural science courses, informal science programs, and workshops for current and future high school teachers and informal science educators
- prepare ASTR, BIOL, and/or GEOL 470 advanced topics courses including a syllabus, lesson plan, reference book, animations, simulations, and other educational resources for distribution at https://evolution.calpoly.edu
- collaborate with members of an interdisciplinary student-run cosmic evolution club or instructionally related activity to produce annual and quarterly special events, Saturday programs, educational materials, and training
- collaborate with academic and informal science education organizations and arrange student internships
Projects may seek support from internal sources including the Frost Fund and the cosmic evolution endowment for the following: 1) additional time required to supervise students, produce educational materials, and/or participate in one of the four special events, 2) stipends and travel expenses for consultants and guest speakers and other expenses including theater rental and educational materials, 3) stipends for student assistants, 4) time to prepare educational materials for courses, workshops, and dissemination at and/or on our YouTube channel, 5) producing a teacher workshop, and/or 6) sponsoring a student intern at a natural history or science museum.