Cornell to offer new astrobiology minor

By: Catherine Gorey,  A&S Communications
Sun, 04/14/2019

Beginning in Fall 2019, the astronomy department will begin to offer a minor in astrobiology, the first of its kind available in the Ivy League. 

Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary scientific field concerned with the origins, early evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. The field has become a major focus of scientific research, as scientists continue exploring the Solar System and working to  detect other exoplanets orbiting other stars. Only Rensselaer Polytechnic, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Arizona currently offer this topic of study.

“The goal of this minor is to develop students' critical thinking and literacy in astrobiology so that they can critically evaluate news and claims related to this interdisciplinary field,” said Nikole Lewis, assistant professor of astronomy.

The astrobiology minor is modeled on the interdisciplinary Carl Sagan Institute, which has 30 faculty from 15 departments across the university. The astrobiology curriculum includes required courses in biology, earth and atmospheric sciences, and science and technology studies, as well as communication courses. Students will be given the option to choose from a list of approved courses, to allow for flexibility and exploration in the broad astrobiology field.

Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy and director of the Carl Sagan Institute, stressed the collaborative nature of the new initiative. “This is a minor that really has the core idea of Cornell at heart, which is to collaborate beyond departments and colleges,” Kaltenegger said. ”There was incredible teamwork across the whole university, bringing together a great team of people who care deeply about our students.”