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New Courses, Faculty and Academic Village at Biosphere 2 Center Strengthen Arizona Campus

Biosphere 2 Center is about to open a $10-million academic village this spring, bringing new life and added academic vitality to the Arizona campus. The new facility includes apartment-style housing for 300 students, a learning resource center to serve as the library, common social and study space, recreational facilities and offices for the student life director and staff.

Biosphere 2 has been enriched by a growing faculty, new undergraduate courses and the introduction of an environmental M.P.A. program. More than 1,200 students have graduated Biosphere programs, about 25 percent of whom are from Columbia. The University is using this growth phase to strengthen the relationship with the New York campus.

"The development of the Biosphere 2 campus allows us to experiment with programs, curriculum and faculty development," said Provost Jonathan Cole in a recent memo to Columbia Department chairs. While the initial impetus for these programs came from natural science departments, such as Earth and Environmental Sciences and Astronomy, the programs at Biosphere 2 integrate natural and social sciences."

To build cohesion and coordination among the growing faculty, the Biosphere 2 Faculty Council has been organized and will meet in April and May, the latter meeting taking place on the Palisade's campus. It will be the first meeting of Biosphere 2 faculty at the home campus in New York. Chaired by Astronomy Professor David Helfand and under the supervision of the Columbia Earth Institute's Director and Professor-in-Charge of Educational Affairs David Krantz, the Council is designed to provide senior faculty guidance to all educational programs at the Biosphere 2 campus.

The Columbia Earth Institute, in cooperation with Columbia College, The School of General Studies, Barnard College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of International and Public Affairs, is involved in developing the academic programs. To ensure their integration into the New York-based academic procedures, Steven Cohen has been appointed the Director of the Earth Institute's Office of Educational Programs and Director of the SIPA/CEI Graduate Program in Earth Systems Science, Policy and Management.

These courses carry Columbia academic credit, which may be applied toward degrees at the student's home campus.

Some of the programs offered include:

  • Earth Systems Management. Humans are the only species with the ability to change the environment on a planetary scale and consider the global impact of their actions. This field course in Earth Systems Management prepares students for a lifetime of conscious environmental decision-making. Earth Systems Management students study the supervision of our planet and its resources.
  • Summer of Stars. This four-week summer program offers college students the opportunity to study the planets, moon, stellar formations and galaxies. Using the 24-inch telescope and electronic camera at the Biosphere 2 Observatory, students will capture images of the moon, Mars, comets, asteroids and galaxies.
  • Earth Systems Field School: Encountering Ecosystems. Encountering Ecosystems is a course in earth and environmental sciences that teaches students to understand the complex interdependent and dynamic nature of Earth by spending time at field sites. Small student groups conduct field research, examining rocks, plants and wildlife in their natural surroundings.
  • Biodiversity. The Earth is currently experiencing the most catastrophic loss of biodiversity in the last 65 million years, from the smallest microorganisms to the largest and most spectacular mammals. Unless reversed, the rate of extinction over the next few decades could result in the estimated loss of 25-75 percent of the species on Earth. Human existence depends upon the biological resources of the Earth. In fact, human prosperity is based largely on the ability to utilize biological diversity for food, clothing, medicine and shelter. The Summer Biodiversity Institute examines the loss of biodiversity by teaching critical skills in sampling and data analysis, exploring the nature of biodiversity, and explaining the fundamentals of biogeography and management issues. Classroom lectures, as well as lab, computer and field exercises, are scheduled. Fieldwork occurs in one of the most diverse deserts on Earth -- the Sonoran Desert -- and also in the Santa Catalina Mountains, the Santa Rita Mountains and the Sea of Cortez.
  • Earth Semester. In Earth Semester, students intensively study Earth Systems, policy and management, work closely with professors and other students, learn how research is conducted in the Biosphere 2 Laboratory and take field trips to locations such as the Grand Canyon, the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Sea of Cortez.
  • Research Semester. Students are teamed with Biosphere faculty and researcher-mentors in ongoing research projects relating to ecology, experimental biology, astronomy and geology. The goal is for students to participate in an authentic research experience to help them decide if they wish to continue in graduate school towards a scientific career. The Biosphere Research Semester is also an ideal way to complete an undergraduate thesis.
  • Universe Semester. Universe Semester is an intensive program in astronomy and astrophysics with tracks customized for the beginner or the science major. The program is conducted under the night sky of southern Arizona. On-site, students observe through state-of-the-art equipment, such as the 24-inch research-grade Ritchey-Chretien telescope which is computer-controlled and equipped with a CCD camera. Located near the nation's major astronomy observatories, the Biosphere takes students on several field trips for hands-on experience. One recent trip featured the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, which operate several large telescopes on Kitt Peak for institutions including Columbia.

Biosphere 2 Center is Columbia's 250-acre Arizona campus devoted to deepening understanding of earth systems vital to informed leadership of the planet. Its 3.5-acre, glass-enclosed, research laboratory allows systems-level research on the science of sustainability. Academic programs in earth systems for high school, undergraduate and graduate students as well as educational programs for 180,000 annual visitors and local school children are part of the Center's continued commitment to public outreach and education. Click for more information.

Click to view the video of students discussing their Bioshpere 2 experiences.

Published: Mar 13, 2002
Last modified:Apr 27, 2005


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