Fall Session: Space Mission Planning
We start our year-long astrobiology course with discussing deep concepts of cosmology and physics, such as time, space, matter and gravity, building a foundation for our future explorations, and helping the students see themselves on a cosmic scale. From there, we move on to discuss the origin and properties of the Solar System.
In the second part of the session, we explore rocky planets, gas giants, the asteroid belt and Jovian and Saturnian moons. In the process, we discuss which planets appear most promising for astrobiology research, and consider the hazards and obstacles we might experience while planning a mission to those planets. The students are invited to choose a destination and plan a mission, analyze trade-offs and use planning tools. We also touch upon the ethics of space exploration and terraformation.
Winter Session: Life over Time
It is time to dip our toes into the vast ocean of astrobiology. At the beginning of the session, we focus on the definition of life and get introduced to the early ideas on its origins, including the “primordial soup.” We proceed with discussing the evolution of chemical elements essential to life. We review the star life cycle, get familiar with nuclear processes inside the stars, and ask ourselves how these elements may combine to give rise to life. We talk about various self-organizing processes in nature, including examples from physics, chemistry, biology, ecology and sociology. The students learn to notice and recognize complexity and emergent phenomena.
The second part of the session is devoted to changing geology, atmospheric chemistry and life forms of the early Earth. We compare the proterozoic and paleozoic eons, mass extinctions, and the subsequent rebounds of life. We also reflect on the 6th mass extinction that is taking place in front of our eyes. We end with considering the concept of self-regulating planets, including pros and cons of planetary terraformation.
Spring Session: Life in Space
We start our Spring semester trying to define a human from an extraterrestrial perspective. Who are you? A multicellular organism burning oxygen? A social creature with an ability to interpret sounds? A human with prosthetics - is that still a human? Let’s consider the possibilities together.
We continue with the discussion of humans in space. How does the long-term space environment affect a human being? What adaptations should humans develop in order to live in space or on other planets? How would it affect the human race? That brings us to the question of space civilizations. How do we look for them? How does space affect them? How do we envision ourselves as a space civilization in the future?
The second half of the session is devoted to ice. We discuss the difference between crystals and other solids, bringing us back to the topic of self-organization. Besides reviewing the properties of different types of ice, we talk about the icy worlds in the Solar system that could potentially host life - and mysterious icy exoplanets outside our solar system.
Have questions? Check out our FAQ page.
LIFE AND UNIVERSE
Life over Time
Life in Space
Fall Session: Other minds
What is reality? How do we perceive it? How is it perceived by animals? How could it be perceived by an artificial intelligence (AI) or a creature from another solar system? Do we live in a dream? Are we the smartest creatures on the planet? What does it mean to be smart? Is our mind easily tricked? What are the differences and similarities between an animal, human, and artificial intelligence? Can you read a human mind? An animal mind? We explore these and other questions about various types of known and possible forms of intelligence. Get ready to experiment with your own mind as you go. Our examples will cover the unique brain of an octopus, the life of ants and naked moles, perception in animals and robots, Neuralink news, and video games for space travel.
Winter Session: Emergence of Mind
Humanity is getting ready to deal with two types of alien minds - artificial (AI) and extraterrestrial (ET). Could they be conscious? What does it mean to be conscious? What is mind, and how does it emerge? How do neurons self-organize to produce coherent signals? Should AI minds that we build mimic nature? We will discuss the neural networks of animal, human and artificial brains and muse about the minds of extraterrestrials. We will talk about raising an AI in the same way we nurture a child. Over the course, we will simulate neural signals, chat with a chatbot, and train AI to recognize images.
Spring Session: Contact and Communication
Our spring session starts with an exciting subject - super-intelligence. What does this mean? What powers could it have? What could be its goals? How would it perceive the world? Should we be wary of it? Could we establish contact with it? And if yes, how?
Do all intelligent creatures want to communicate? We will explore various ways of communication in nature, and try to see whether we could learn dolphinese. Is it possible to develop a universal language that would be understandable by all intelligent creatures? What is METI and xenolinguistics?
We will end our course with a discussion on whether - and how- to make friends with any alien mind, be it an animal, an AI or an ET. If we succeed, we will see the Universe as a very different, more welcoming place.
Have questions? Check out our FAQ page.
MIND AND UNIVERSE
Emergence of Mind
Contact and Communication
Game Design Club:
Join Dr. Gordon Hamilton, the designer of Santorini and founder of MathPickle.com on a guided tour of board games and board game design.
We are going to start by playing some games on board game arena and discussing the mechanisms behind the designs. What makes them tick.After several hours of becoming familiar with games we will choose one and design some of our own variations. Lastly, we will tackle a design together. The theme for this game will be space-related, but that leaves a universe of possibilities!
We will aim to create something that is worthy of publication.
Conceptual Physics Class:
Our introductory physics course is focused on some of the most fundamental laws of nature. We will strive to understand how these laws work. The course does not require any prerequisites, and provides lots of simple illustrative examples. The students will be encouraged to analyze physical phenomena and draw conclusions. This way, children will "discover" many laws of nature on their own. Within the duration of the class, students will conduct experiments (pushing carts on wheels, drowning cubes in a pot of water, heating ice, etc.), and draw a lot. We will also solve problems. Here are two examples: 1) given two plaster copies of the Statue of Liberty, the first being twice as tall as the second one, how many times would it be heavier? 2) who finds it more difficult to walk through a deep snow - a wolf or a bear, and why? Incidentally, these two examples illustrate one of the most important principles of the geometry of our world.
Physics Problems Class:
The Physics Problems class is focused on teaching logical thinking in application to physical phenomena (students get used to think: “it happens this way, because ...”). The students learn to analyze the problem (can we split it into smaller tasks? what is the cause and effect? how does it change with time? how many objects or actors are involved?) and apply mathematics in real life.
Kerbal Space Program Club:
We will help participants set goals for their space programs, identify steps needed for accomplishing goals. Participants will be playing in sandbox mode. Use actual historical artifacts (videos, photos) from past space missions and current events in space exploration to set goals for the in-game space programs and develop incremental challenges for achieving them.