Educational Resources

 

Introduction to Emergence and Complexity Science

“Perhaps the most fundamental question of biology is why life exists on Earth at all. How—and more importantly why—did it emerge, and how has it managed to persist for almost four billion years?”—D. Eric Smith.

Literature

Complexity Science e-book | read e-book 
A beautifully illustrated e-book introduction to Complexity Science: A Whole New Way of Understanding our World.

 

 

Audio/Video

How and Why Did Life on Earth Emerge? (as seen in the Emergence exhibit)
Harold Morowitz discusses how life began on Earth.

 

 

PBS NOVA: Emergence | visit website
No leader controls the seemingly coordinated movement of a school of fish or a flock of birds. Instead, it emerges naturally as each individual follows a few simple rules, such as go in the same direction as the other guy, don’t get too close, and flee any predators. This phenomenon, known as emergence, may someday help experts explain the origin of consciousness and even life itself.

 

 

 

The Principles of Complexity | visit youtube channel
Watch an overview of SFI's research of the principles of complexity.

 

 

 

Inevitable Life? | visit youtube channel
D. Eric Smith discusses how emergence of life was an inevitable outcome of geochemistry on the early earth, and the same forces responsible for emergence have continued to support the persistence of life ever since.

 

 

 

Interactive

Complexity Science iOS app | download app
A beautifully illustrated interactive introduction to complexity science—a whole new way of understanding our world. Each characteristic of complexity science is presented in an engaging and?non-technical way.

ICAM (Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter) | visit website
A distributed global science outreach and educational network to promote novel educational initiatives that take full advantage of the internet to help learners of all ages develop an informed emergent perspective on our emergent universe.

Classroom Activities

Computer Based Modeling tool | visit website
NetLogo is a multi-agent programmable modeling environment. It is used by tens of thousands of students, teachers and researchers worldwide. It also powers HubNet participatory simulations. You can download it free of charge.

 

Elements

“What we learn from the periodic table is that life is always conducting chemical experiments, trying to find the small advantage. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is to find the element you need—life will make the effort to incorporate it.”—Harold Morowitz

Audio/Video

You can find numerous versions of Tom Lehrer’s famous song “The Elements” on Youtube.

The Periodic Table of Videos | visit website
A group of chemists from the University of Nottingham created a modern version of the Periodic Table of the Elements based on a short video about each one.

 

 

 

"The Periodic Table Table" | visit youtube channel
Theodore W. Gray discusses a real wooden table with compartments that hold samples of almost every chemical element.

 

 

 

Interactive

There are numerous interactive versions of the Periodic Table of the Elements online. Here are a few that are our favorites:
Theodore Gray | visit website 
LANL | visit website
Royal Chemistry Society | visit website
University of Minnesota’s Biochemical Periodic Table of the Elements | visit website

Classroom Activities

Collecting the Elements
Scientist Harold Morowitz had a good time with his children when they were young collecting examples of the elements either from nature or common household items and placing them on a Periodic Table of the Elements to see how many they could find. This type of treasure hunt could also make a fun classroom activity.

 

Early Earth/Timeline

“We know that our planet started as a hot, airless, molten ball in space. The question is, How did we get from that to a planet teeming with life?”—Jim Trefil

Literature

Robert M. Hazen Geophysical Laboratory | visit website
Robert Hazen’s theory of mineral evolution was a big influence on the design of the exhibit timeline. 

Audio/Video

TED Talk | visit website
David Christian narrates a complete history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the Internet, in a riveting 18 minutes. This is "Big History": an enlightening, wide-angle look at complexity, life and humanity, set against our slim share of the cosmic timeline.

 

 

 

Classroom Activities

Earth is 4.6 billion years old. Life emerged sometime before 3.5 billion years ago. Here is a classroom activity designed to provide students with a sense of geologic time using a roll of toilet paper and post-it notes.
visit website

 

Tree of Life

Audio/Video

NPR’s Radiolab podcast: Genes on the Move | visit podcast
Biology class is all about putting living things into categories, based on their differences. And creatures are different because they have different genes. But life wasn’t always like that. In the first part of this segment of NPR’s Radiolab series, Steve Strogatz, an applied mathematician at Cornell, tells about a radical theory that says that way back at the beginning of life, over 3 billion years ago, life was a big commune of gene swapping. Nigel Goldenfeld, one of the scientists who came up with this theory, says that the idea of different species, and consequently Darwinian evolution, simply didn’t apply for the first billion years of life on Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life (as seen on BBC) | visit youtube channel
A six-minute Tree of Life video narrated by David Attenborough.

 

 

 

UC Berkley Biology Lecture | visit youtube channel
Biology 1B - Lecture 17: The tree of life: Phylogeny

 

 

 

Interactive

The NEW Tree of Life | visit website
New research has led to development of a new, genetically based Tree of Life, which allows deeper insight into the evolution of species than their physical features alone.

The Tree of Life Web Project | visit website
This website is a collaborative effort of biologists and nature enthusiasts from around the world. On more than 10,000 World Wide Web pages, the project provides information about biodiversity, the characteristics of different groups of organisms, and their evolutionary history (phylogeny).

Classroom Activities

Understanding the Tree of Life | visit website
Understanding the Tree of Life seeks to better understand how the museum public interprets and understands phylogenetic trees.

Bring the Tree of Life to Life | view documentUsing Pipe Cleaners to create the Tree of Life.

 

Origin of Life Theories

Interactive

Exploring Origins | visit website
A virtual multimedia exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science and is based on the research of Jack Szostak and his laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Current Science and Technology team at the Museum of Science.

Miller-Urey Experiment | visit website 
A simulation of the Miller–Urey Experiment by Scott Ellis from CalSpace (UCSD).

 

Extremophiles

Audio/Video

Extremophiles in Caves (as seen in the Emergence exhibit)

 

 

 

Interactive

NOVA: Mysterious Life of Caves | visit website
Deep in the heart of the Guadalupe Mountains in southern New Mexico, rock-eating microbes are at work. But their appetites are dainty compared to their voracious hunger millions of years ago, when they carved some of the most impressive caves in the world. "Mysterious Life of Caves" reports on a revolutionary theory of cave formation that has startling implications for the development of life on Earth and on other planets.

The Subsurface Life in Mineral Environments Team | visit website
Diana Northup from the University of New Mexico, Penelope Boston from New Mexico Tech, Mike Spilde, from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico and the other members of the SLIME (Subsurface Life In Mineral Environments) Team are investigating how microbes help form the colorful ferromanganese deposits that coat the walls of Lechuguilla and Spider Cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park; how these deposits compare to surface desert/rock varnish coatings; how microbes participate in the precipitation of calcium carbonate formations called pool fingers; and the microbial diversity located in the hydrogen sulfide cave.

Classroom Activities

Winogradsky Column
Many people do not know what microbes are or that they are alive. They do not realize which conditions are necessary, and not necessary, to sustain life. Building a Winogradsky column is a good hands-on classroom activity to correct misconceptions and involve students in microbiology. 
Animated Tutorial | visit website 
Educator Guide | view document

Microbial Life - Educational Resources | visit website
This site contains a variety of educational and supporting materials for students and teachers of microbiology. You will find information about microorganisms, extremophiles and extreme habitats, as well as links to online provides information about the ecology, diversity and evolution of micro-organisms for students, K-12 teachers, university faculty, and the general public.

Ongoing Scientific Quest

Literature

Discovery News | visit website
Earth was hardly a hospitable place when life began billions of years ago. Yet despite scorching temperatures and noxious gasses, life on the planet managed to take hold. Read through our coverage of the latest research on Earth's earliest life.

Audio/Video

TED Talk | visit website
Penelope Boston says there might be life on Mars.