CC 106: Origins

Spring 2015: SCI 113, TueTh 2:00-3:30 PM

Course Page Contents [PDF Syllabus]

Course Description [back to top]

From where do we come? Every human culture, for generations, has wondered about the origins of the Universe, the Earth, life on Earth, and of course human life. Many cultures have developed rich and original origin myths that seek to explain how our world came into existence. We live at an amazing time in human history; a time when scientists have the means and tools to address some of the most profound questions humans have ever dared to ask about themselves and their world. We now know that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old; the Earth 4.6 billion. We know roughly when life originated and how it evolved, and we know how an ancient ape evolved into what you see in the mirror every morning. But, how do we know these things? CC106 is designed to introduce you to four different sciences: astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology as each seeks to understand the origins of our world, and ourselves, through the lens of science. Students will not only gain valuable insights into the origins of important events in our history, but will learn about the process of science and how it is both similar and different in various disciplines.

Faculty [back to top]

Office E-mail Phone Office Hours
Robin Stevens CAS 119 8-2891 T 11-12:30
Th 12-1:30
Andrew West (Anthro) CAS 422A 8-5879 M 10-11
T 11-12
Th 10-11
Andy Kurtz (E&E) Stone 141K 8-2570 W 1-2
Th 3:30-4:30
Daphne Schatzberg (Bio) LSEB 628 8-5190 W 2-4
Jeremy DeSilva (Anthro) 232 Bay State Rd 3-5026 W 11-12
Th 11-1

Undergraduate Mentors [back to top]

Seven Core mentors are on staff to help students with CC106 this semester. They will provide the following resources:

  1. Study group sessions. Several mentors will lead weekly study groups (exact time and place will be announced at a later date). These sessions will be opportunities to review lecture material, get help with assignments, or ask general questions about CC106 or other Core courses.
  2. Weekly e-mails. The mentors will send a weekly e-mail with a brief summary of that week’s lecture topics and other important course information. In the past students have found these e-mails to be a nice study guide for exams, so be sure to save them!
  3. Help with Core. All of the mentors have taken all Core Curriculum courses, so they are happy to help with any questions you may have about the program.

Mentor contact information:

E-mail Major
Katie Angelica History
Catherine Enwright English Education
Nate Fairchild Music, Philosophy & Political Science
Emily Franco Political Science
Rebekah Machemer Japanese Language and Literature
Yanni Metaxas Undeclared
Gayle Miner Environmental Science

Grade and Exam Policy [back to top]

  1. Exam I, March 3. 20%. The midterm exam will cover all lecture material, readings, and labs through the first half of the course.
  2. Exam II, Final exam. 25%. The final exam is cumulative and will cover all of the material covered in the lectures, discussion sections, and labs throughout the semester. However, the emphasis will be on the material covered in the second-half of the course.
  3. Lab. 25%. Lab syllabus found below.
  4. Paper. 10%. Students will submit a short (~3 page) paper on a topic of their choosing. One option will be to write a journalism (or blog) – style explanation of a scientific discovery related to origins that was made during the semester.
  5. Discussion attendance and participation. 10%. See more below.
  6. Homework. 5%. At the end of each content module (astronomy, geology, biology, anthropology), there will be a short homework assignment to assess your knowledge of each area.
  7. Lecture attendance. 5%. Attendance will be taken at the end of each lecture. Students will have one minute to write their thoughts and questions about the class they just attended.

Readings [back to top]

Readings will be assigned weekly and will be posted to our Blackboard course website. These readings will be the basis of weekly discussion, and will be on your exams. They are listed in the lecture/exam schedule below.

Course Website [back to top]

Students should routinely visit the course website on Blackboard. Lecture slides and readings will be posted there, and any course announcements will be posted to Blackboard.

Discussion [back to top]

In addition to lecture, students are expected to attend a weekly discussion section. Here, students will discuss the readings for the week and address issues that arose in lecture. At the beginning of the semester, students will sign-up to lead discussion on a particular week. Students are required to submit comments and/or questions to the discussion board section of Blackboard. The discussion leaders for the week will coordinate the comments/questions with the assistance of their discussion instructor and use this as a guide for organizing the class each week.

Academic Conduct [back to top]

All members of the University are expected to maintain the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity; we have the same expectations of each other in this course. Seminar leaders take the issue of plagiarism seriously and expect all the work you do in this course to be your own. If you have questions about what plagiarism is and how it differs from the appropriate use of other people’s work, speak with your instructor or consult the Academic Conduct Code.

Learning and testing accommodation [back to top]

Boston University complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. If you are a student who needs academic accommodations because of a documented disability, you should contact your seminar leader and present your letter of accommodation as soon as possible. If you have questions about documenting a disability or requesting academic accommodations, contact the Office of Disability Services at and 617-353-3658. Letters of accommodations should be presented as soon as possible to ensure that student needs are addressed from the start of the course. Learn more at

Lecture and Exam Schedule [back to top]




Readings and discussion

Jan. 20

Introduction to course.

What is Science?


Excerpt from Pirsig- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Jan. 22

Origins of the cosmos – big bang, expansion of universe


Hogan- Little Book of the Big Bang

Jan. 27

Origin of galaxies and stars


Excerpts from Kay, Palen, Smith & Blumenthal- 21st Century Astronomy

Jan. 29

Origin of elements, stellar evolution


Excerpts from Kay, Palen, Smith & Blumenthal- 21st Century Astronomy

Feb. 3

Origin of our solar system and planets


Excerpts from Hodge- Higher than Everest

Feb. 5

Origin of exoplanets


Excerpts from Jayawardhana- Strange New Worlds

Feb. 10

Origin of the moon


Excerpts from Science, Nature, and Elements articles

Feb. 12

The Age of the Earth


Dalrymple: Readings from “Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies”

Feb. 17

No Class (Monday schedule)

Feb. 19

Origin of the Earth and its layers: core, mantle, atmosphere, ocean


Excerpts from “Early Earth” Elements Magazine August 2006

Feb. 24

Origin of the continents, plate tectonics, and supercontinent cycles


Excerpts from “This Dynamic Earth” USGS Web edition

Feb. 26

The origin of life on Earth


1. Schopf  “The First Billion Years:  When Did Life Emerge?, Elements Magazine

2. Hazen “The Story of Earth” Chapter 6 “Living Earth”

Mar. 3


Mar. 5

Earth’s Early Greenhouse, The Rise of Oxygen, and Ancient Climate Systems


Hazen “They Story of Earth”, Chapter 7 “Red Earth”

Mar. 10 & 12

Spring Break

Mar. 17

Daisyworld and the Gaia Hypothesis


1. Kump et al. “The Earth System”  Chapter 2 “Daisyworld, An Introduction to Systems”

2. Lovelock, “Reflections on Gaia, from “Scientists Debate Gaia”

Mar. 19

What is life? cellular life, organisms


Inside the Cell, chapter 1, NIH (pdf)

Mar. 24

What is life? cellular structure, components


1. How Cells Work (web)

2. Polar and Nonpolar, WonderWorks (pdf)

Mar. 26

What is the definition of life? characteristics, viruses, entropy


1. How Viruses Work (web)

2. C.J. Smith, Biosystems 1975, Problems with entropy in biology (pdf)

Mar. 31

When does life begin? chicken-egg, death, Frankenstein


Embryonic Development (web)

Apr. 2

How could life begin? prevailing theories, arch paradox, DNA-RNA-protein


1. Central Dogma of Genetics (pdf)

2. Seven Theories for the Origin of Life  (web)

Apr. 7

How could life begin? clay crystal hypothesis, C prosthesis, RNA world


1. RNA World (web)

2. AG Cairns-Smith, Sketches for a Mineral Genetic Material, Elements 2007 (pdf)

Apr. 9

The Science of Human Origins


Tattersall, 2008. What’s so special about science?

Apr. 14

Planet of the Apes


Begun, 2003. Planet of the Apes.

Apr. 16

Origins of our lineage


Wood. 2014. Welcome to the Family.

Apr. 21

Case study: Australopithecus sediba


Wong, 2012. First of our kind.

Apr. 23

Tools, brains, and fire


Adler, 2013. Why fire makes us human.

Apr. 28

Origins of Homo sapiens


Gibbons, 2011. A new view on the birth of Homo sapiens.

Apr. 30

Impacts of humans on the Earth & Environment… and the End of the World

All Staff

No readings.

May 6

Final Exam

Lab Syllabus

Instructor:  Dr. Robin Stevens
Office hours:  Tuesday 12–1:30, Thursday 11-12:30, and by appointment
Office: CAS 119E (in the Core Office)
Lab location: SCI 307

Introduction to Core Natural Science Labs [back to top]

The Core Natural Science labs are designed to give you hands-on exposure to the scientific process while reinforcing material covered in lectures. During the labs you will utilize some of the tools and methods that scientists use to acquire and analyze data. You will also gain experience performing spreadsheet manipulation, quantitative reasoning, and graphical and statistical analysis. These labs will give you a taste of the joys and challenges that come from doing science and will help you develop skills that will be beneficial no matter what future path you may take.

Lab Structure [back to top]

Before lab:

In order to make the best use of your time in the lab, it is essential that you come prepared. This means that you should be familiar with the relevant background material and have knowledge of the experiments you will be performing during the session. You will be expected to complete pre-lab readings and/or exercises that will be posted on Blackboard (under the “Labs” tab). For some labs you may be asked to hand in pre-lab questions at the beginning of lab (these should be completed individually). These questions will be worth 5-10% of that week’s lab grade. Material covered in the labs may also be included in your exams.

During lab:

Labs will meet for two hours in SCI 307 (in the Metcalf Science Center, 590 Commonwealth Ave.). You will perform all lab experiments and analyses with a partner (or partners) that will be assigned during the first lab session. Lab time will be spent conducting experiments, recording data, and performing analyses. At the end of lab you will upload relevant data files to Blackboard (if required). You and your partner will be assigned a group on Blackboard that will allow each of you to upload, view, and download your lab reports. We will go over this in more detail during Lab 1.

After lab:

After the lab you and your partner will finish data analysis and answer any follow-up questions you did not have time to complete during the lab session. You will typically have one week to complete your analyses and submit your lab report and any additional data files to Blackboard for grading. The deadline for submitting labs online is 11 PM on the date indicated in the lab schedule below. You may also submit a hard copy of your lab report, but these will be due at 5:30 PM on the due date. Late submissions will be penalized (see Grading Policy below); therefore you are strongly encouraged to submit your work as early as possible. Last-minute technical problems (internet, computer, corrupt files, etc.) will not be accepted as an excuse for late submissions. If you have technical difficulties, please contact Dr. Stevens as soon as possible.

You can use any library computer to complete your post-lab work. Alternatively, if you wish to finish your work on your personal computer, you may need to install MS Excel (available in the MS Office bundle on  or Please submit all electronic files in .doc/.docx or .xls/.xlsx format.

Grading and Absence Policy [back to top]

Your lab grade will primarily be based on your lab report and supplementary data files (i.e., Excel spreadsheets). For certain labs you may be asked to hand in pre-lab questions that will be worth 5-10% of that week’s lab grade. Lab partners will receive the same grade on their lab reports, but each person will receive an individual grade on pre-lab questions (if required for that lab session). Your combined lab scores will be worth 25% of your total course grade. Each of the eight labs will count equally toward your lab grade. Because CC106 helps fulfill the CAS laboratory requirement, missing or failing (a grade less than 50% of full credit) TWO or more labs will result in you failing the course no matter how well you perform on other areas of the course.

Late submissions will be penalized unless a prior arrangement with Dr. Stevens has been made. The first late submission will be forgiven (as long as it is less than 24 hours late). After the first late submission a 10% penalty will be assessed if the lab report is less than 24 hours late, while a 20% penalty will be assessed if it is between 24 and 48 hours late. If the lab report is more than 48 hours late, you will receive no credit.

If you know ahead of time that you will miss a lab or if you have a sudden illness or emergency, please let Dr. Stevens know as soon as possible. It may be possible for you to come to another section or attend a make-up section.

Safety [back to top]

Although the experiments we will perform have little to no safety risks, it is always good practice to err on the side of caution while working in a laboratory space. Eating, drinking, and smoking are never allowed in the lab. Please do not bring food or drink into the lab (including gum and water). Please follow all instructions carefully and notify the instructor immediately if there is a safety concern.

Lab Schedule [back to top]

Labs will meet approximately once every two weeks during the semester. If scheduling changes need to occur, announcements will be made on Blackboard and via e-mail. You should be registered for either a Monday or Wednesday lab section. Please do not come unannounced to a different section as most are completely full. If you have a scheduling conflict, please contact Dr. Stevens and Rose Grenier (


Meetings (SCI 307)

Labs Due (by 11 PM online or 5:30 PM hard copy)





1. Scientific method(s)





2. Astronomy lab #1





3. Astronomy lab #2





4. Earth science lab





5. Biology lab #1





6. Biology lab #2





7. Anthropology lab #1





8. Anthropology lab #2





*Note that Tuesday, February 17 is a Monday schedule due to Presidents’ Day.

^Due to Patriot’s Day the deadline for Lab 7 has been extended by 2 days.

**Lab 8 will be due 24 hours after labs meet. The lab will be designed to have very limited post-lab work.