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Astrobiology

Schedule

Monday, 11 November 2019 to Monday, 1 June 2020
Total hours: 40
Hours of lectures: 40

Examination procedure

  • Written test

Prerequisites

Prerequisites: Masters degree courses in Physics, Chemistry, Biology. The course is highly interdisciplinary; all topics will be taught at a level accessible to students with a background in any of the disciplines mentioned above. The course is suggested for PhD and Masters degree students.

Syllabus

The aim of the course is to provide a multi-disciplinary overview on the current state of knowledge about the origin and evolution of Life, from the formation of simple molecules in space to the development of prebiotic complex molecular systems and to the appearance of simple living organisms on Earth.

First, we will provide basic principles on the formation of molecules in the interstellar medium, we will discuss the main physical processes responsible for the star formation and planet formation processes, and we will present the main techniques available nowadays for detecting extrasolar systems. Based on our knowledge about the Solar System, the necessary conditions required for the development of Life in our Galaxy will be addressed.

The physical and chemical conditions of prebiotic Earth will be then discussed, with special focus on the development of biological material from which Life originated. The nature and features of the basic molecules of Life, proteins and DNA, will be reviewed, providing hints about their origin and illustrating the energetic and chemical constraints that have possibly driven their evolution into the form we know today. In this context, a few pioneering experiments aiming at understanding the prebiotic synthesis and self-assembly of such complex biomolecular systems will be discussed. Then, the nature of Life, its development and the modern experimental investigations targeting Life evolution will be presented in terms of the basic molecular ingredients playing an important role in the known metabolic processes occurring in living organisms.

Educational Goals: 

- Providing a basic theoretical ground for understanding the formation of simple molecules in space, the star formation and planet formation processes, the origin of prebiotic molecules on Earth

- Developing notions and competences about the physical and chemical processes and conditions characterizing the prebiotic era and the initial stage of Life  

- Stimulating the students to investigate open questions in the growing research area of Astrobiology by adopting a multi-disciplinary approach

Bibliographical references

K.W.Plaxco e M.Gross, Astrobiology. A brief Introduction. Johns Hopkins ed.

Caleb Scharf, Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology, USCI ed.

A.M. Shaw, Astrochemistry. From astronomy to astrobiology, John Wiley ed.

Additional articles and reference material will be provided in class.