Planetary Science includes the study of the eight planets in our Solar System, of course, but the intellectual boundaries of planetary science extend far beyond. Such fundamental questions as the origin and evolution of other solar systems and the existence of extraterrestrial life require a very broad perspective that ranges from the subatomic world of fundamental particles to the macroscopic world of galaxies.
In pursuing such questions, planetary scientists merge relevant topics in traditional disciplines such as physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and astronomy with engineering and computational expertise. One consequence of this unique interdisciplinary foundation is the spectacular success of the nation's solar system exploration program.
The PTYS curriculum includes courses designed to meet the following needs of undergraduates:
- Lower division courses required by liberal arts majors to satisfy General Education requirements for science.
- Upper division courses for science majors who require a planetary perspective for career development.
- First Year Colloquia for freshmen in which specialized topics in planetary science are explored through discussion and conversation in small, informal classes led by faculty.
The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is also one of the sponsoring departments for the undergraduate minor in Astrobiology.
Teaching at PTYS/LPL
Most PTYS classes are taught by ranked faculty, all of whom have distinguished records of achievement in planetary research. Thus, your PTYS instructor is likely to be a Principal Investigator on a NASA space mission or a guest observer at one of the world's premier ground-based, airborne, or Earth-orbiting telescopes, or maybe even a University dean or department head.
Their experience will enrich classroom presentations and create many interesting opportunities for one-on-one discussions with students. Most PTYS courses are assigned a graduate teaching assistant to assist students with course work and to lead optional discussion and review sessions. Some PTYS courses use undergraduate preceptors to provide peer assistance with class activities.
General education courses with large enrollments don’t have to be impersonal experiences for students. PTYS instructors are integrating collaborative learning activities and hands-on research projects into their courses in preparation for new university-wide general education requirements. Rather than listening passively to a lecture, students engage with one another while carrying learning activities.
As part of the Teaching Teams Programs, preceptors are most often students who are concurrently enrolled in the courses in which they serve on teaching teams. Consequently, their ability to be content experts is limited to their “just-in-time” command of the course material. On the other hand, undergraduates can be natural, effective facilitators, communicators, and listeners when given a chance to show other students how to learn and how to teach each other.