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The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence

The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence

Professor Robert M. Hazen, Ph.D.
George Mason University

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The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence

Course No. 1740
Professor Robert M. Hazen, Ph.D.
George Mason University
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89% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 1740
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version enriches your experience with more than 700 visuals. The course features over 100 animations that provide insight into the structure and evolution of minerals on the planet and numerous images of the cutting-edge scientific instruments that are being deployed to help us understand Earth's history. The course also makes effective use of on-screen text to make the material easier to retain.
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Course Overview

The story of Earth is an epic filled with crises, catastrophes, and remarkable, repeated change. Earth traces its origin to simple atoms that were created in the big bang, transformed into heavy elements in stellar explosions, and then forged into a planet inside the nebula that gave birth to the solar system. Like many other planets, Earth went through phases of melting, volcanism, and bombardment by asteroids. But only on Earth did events lead to a flourishing biosphere—life. And once life was established, it drove the evolution of our planet in startling new directions.

Most amazing of all, the evidence for every step in this intricate process is all around us—in the thousands of minerals in rocks above and below ground. Consider these intriguing clues:

  • Diamond: Created under extreme pressure, diamond may very well be the first mineral formed in the universe. Together with a dozen other minerals, it helped seed the solar nebula with dust that became the planets.
  • Great Oxidation Event: Earth’s iron deposits are a relic of the earliest photosynthetic life, which introduced large amounts of oxygen into the atmosphere, promoting the oxidation of rocks and the production of metal-rich minerals.
  • Plate tectonics: Many distinctive minerals are associated with plate tectonics, the ceaseless motion of Earth’s crustal plates for more than 3 billion years. This process has had a profound impact on climate, the atmosphere, the oceans, and the development of life.
  • Cambrian explosion: Changes over billions of years led to altered mineral chemistry in the oceans that made animal shells, bones, and teeth possible. Life exploited these structures in a burst of evolution 540 million years ago called the Cambrian explosion.

Minerals are fundamental to the story of Earth in many ways. Not only are we living beings nourished by minerals, but minerals provide the resources and energy that are crucial to modern civilization. Beyond that, the evolution of minerals has played a central role all across the surface of the planet and throughout its interior. Minerals turn out to be much more than beautiful crystals; they provide outstanding clues to our origins and they are major players in a drama of unimaginable scope.

The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence lets you experience firsthand the thrill of piecing together the epic story of Earth in an enlightening new perspective. In 48 half-hour lectures available in both video and audio formats, you follow events from the big bang to the formation of Earth to the many twists and turns in our planet’s evolution. You discover how a young universe populated with only a few elements became a cosmos of infinite variety characterized by life—thanks to minerals. Your professor is the noted scientist who pioneered the study of mineral evolution, Professor Robert M. Hazen of George Mason University and the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory.

A prominent field geologist, laboratory mineralogist, collector, popular author, and award-winning teacher, Professor Hazen is also a nationally recognized advocate for science education and the perfect guide for an in-depth investigation of breakthrough scientific concepts. In a course suitable for scientists and nonscientists alike, he recounts Earth’s story through 10 stages of mineral evolution. Each stage resculpted our planet’s surface, introducing new planetary processes and phenomena. By stage 6, life was an integral part of this process, and you learn that life is ultimately responsible for almost two-thirds of the mineral species on Earth—thousands of unique crystals that could only exist on a living world.

A New Way of Looking at Our Planet

In The Origin and Evolution of Earth, you study mineral evidence for milestones that are mind-bogglingly deep in the past:

  • Rocks older than Earth: Rocks that date to the early stages of the formation of the solar system arrive on our planet all the time. They are chondrite meteorites, which are 4.567 billion years old, older than Earth itself.
  • Formation of Earth’s moon: Studies of Earth and moon rocks show differences best explained by a collision between the proto-Earth and a Mars-sized planet. The smaller body disintegrated and reformed as the object we know as the moon.
  • First continents: Continents did not exist until the formation of granite, a rock less dense than basalt, which constituted Earth’s earliest crust. Islands of granite floating on moving basaltic plates gradually collected into the first continents.
  • First supercontinent: Supercontinents have formed and broken up at least six times in Earth’s past. The best known is Pangaea, but geological evidence shows a series of these mammoth landmasses forming and splitting apart for almost 3 billion years.

Professor Hazen was inspired to promote his new approach to the study of minerals by a simple question asked by biologist Harold Morowitz, who wanted to know if there were clay minerals on Earth in the eon when life began. Clays are common on Earth now, but how widespread were they 3.8 billion years ago? The question is important because clay minerals figure in many theories about the origin of life.

“What was really mind-bending about this simple question,” says Professor Hazen, “is the even bigger underlying suggestion that Earth’s near-surface mineralogy might have differed in the past from what we see today. In 35 years as a professional mineralogist, I had never heard of such a question!” Professor Hazen goes on to point out that the living world we see around us is just the latest iteration in a long sequence of startlingly different Earths. Working backward in time, he describes these major phases:

  • Green Earth: The view of Earth from space shows an inviting oasis of blue, brown, white, and, most important, green. The green of photosynthetic life is the most visible sign of the living world.
  • White Earth: Plants and animals need an oxygen-rich atmosphere—a situation made fully possible 700 million years ago by conditions on a very different Earth, encased in ice from the poles to the equator.
  • Red Earth: The ice-covered Earth could not have happened without a convergence of landmasses to form a supercontinent called Rodinia, tinted red due to the Great Oxidation Event 2.2 billion years ago.
  • Gray Earth: Microbial life responsible for oxygenation developed only after plate tectonics began to control Earth’s surface more than 3 billion years ago, when gray continents of granite first appeared.
  • Blue Earth: Plate tectonics is one of the many outcomes of a globe-spanning blue ocean, which started to form as early as 4.4 billion years ago. The oceans also play a role in the formation of many minerals.
  • Black Earth: The blue ocean world would not exist without water vapor from steaming volcanoes, which also paved the planet with dense black basalt starting more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Some worlds, such as Earth’s moon and Mercury, never advanced beyond the black, basaltic phase. But for Earth, it was just the beginning.

Minerals as a Signature of Life

The Origin and Evolution of Earth explains how many distinctive minerals, including the semiprecious stone turquoise, deep blue azurite, and brilliant green malachite, are unambiguous signs of life, since they form only in an oxygen-rich environment that results from living processes. The discovery of such rocks on another planet would resolve one of the biggest unanswered questions in science: Did life form elsewhere besides Earth? You also learn that we don’t need to travel very far to make this discovery. Meteorites could bring us telltale evidence of extraterrestrial life, or telescopic studies of planets orbiting other stars might reveal light spectra that signal the presence of life.

Throughout these 48 lectures, you range across the fields of mineralogy, geology, chemistry, cosmology, planetary astronomy, and biology, absorbing major concepts and also learning about groundbreaking researchers, many of whom are known personally by Professor Hazen. His anecdotes are both enlightening and entertaining. For example, he recounts the thrilling moment in graduate school when he was on hand as his professor, Dave Wones, received one of the first lunar samples from the Apollo missions. Hear how everything did not go according to plan that day. And you discover the clandestine world of meteorite trading in North Africa, where Professor Hazen was offered a deal on a priceless meteorite from Mars. Or was it an ordinary Earth rock? Without sophisticated analysis back in the lab, there was no way of knowing.

If you have ever admired the beauty of a crystal, marveled at the complexity of the natural world, wondered about the amazing story locked inside a rock—or a fossil—or the moons of Jupiter; or if you are simply a person who likes a good mystery, sprinkled with surprising clues, then The Origin and Evolution of Earth is the course for you. Join Professor Hazen—a born teacher, scientist, storyteller, guide, and companion—in this unrivaled investigation.

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48 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Mineralogy and a New View of Earth
    Begin your study of Earth’s history by voyaging backward in time, seeing how each crucial stage in the evolution of our planet depended on what came before. Preview the surprising role played by minerals, which coevolved with life—a link that provides a revolutionary new way of understanding Earth. x
  • 2
    Origin and Evolution of the Early Universe
    Earth has existed for only a third of the history of the universe. What happened before our planet formed? Journey back to the big bang, learning how fundamental forces and particles froze out of a homogeneous state in the initial moments of cosmic evolution. x
  • 3
    Origins of the Elements—Nucleosynthesis
    Discover how simple atoms of hydrogen and helium make stars, and how stars manufacture all other naturally occurring elements through processes including titanic supernova explosions. Called nucleosynthesis, this remarkable mechanism is responsible for the chemical richness that made Earth possible. x
  • 4
    Ur-Minerals, First Crystals in the Cosmos
    Trace the origin of minerals and discover a surprising candidate for the first crystal forged in the cauldron of dying stars. Then follow the processes that created other early minerals, which survive in their original form in microscopic presolar dust grains in interplanetary space. x
  • 5
    Presolar Dust Grains—Chemistry Begins
    Unravel the story told in “presolar” grains of dust formed by stars very different from our sun. These are the earliest building blocks of our own solar system. Learn how scientists identify these microscopic particles, which often contain diamond crystals. Also see how the field of cosmochemistry is revolutionizing the study of minerals. x
  • 6
    Coming to Grips with Deep Time
    Plunge into deep time—the vast period that reaches back to Earth’s beginning. Professor Hazen walks you through a memorable analogy that orients you along this sea of ceaseless change. Also explore the techniques that allow scientists to date rocks and other materials with astonishing precision. x
  • 7
    The Birth of the Solar System
    Where did Earth and the solar system come from? See how an idea proposed in the 18th century provides a simple and elegant answer to this question. Compare our solar system with other planetary systems that have recently come to light in the successful search for extrasolar planets. x
  • 8
    The Early Solar System—Terrestrial Planets
    Investigate the work of the most successful planet-hunter of all time: the Kepler spacecraft, which found thousands of candidate planets orbiting other stars. Then focus on the origin of the four terrestrial planets in our inner solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. x
  • 9
    Hints from the Gas Giants and Their Moons
    Tour Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—the four gas giants of the outer solar system. Each is a mammoth world of violent weather, and each has multiple moons that help shed light on Earth’s story. View this strange realm through the eyes of far-traveling space probes. x
  • 10
    Meteorites—The Oldest Objects You Can Hold
    Most meteorites that fall to Earth are older than Earth itself. Review our understanding of these artifacts of the solar nebula, learn where most meteorites are found, and hear about Professor Hazen’s experiences searching for meteorites in the murky world of international meteorite trading. x
  • 11
    Mineral Evolution, Go! Chondrite Meteorites
    Focus on the most numerous class of meteorites: chondrites. These incredibly ancient rocks tell a story of intense pulses of radiation from the infant sun, which melted dust grains into sticky rocky droplets called chondrules. Countless chondrules clumped together to form chondrite meteorites. x
  • 12
    Meteorite Types and Planetesimals
    As planetesimals grew, the primary chondrite minerals were altered in ways that formed a different class of meteorites: achondrites. Study these fascinating relics from destroyed mini-planets. Some achondrites were blasted off the moon and Mars, including one specimen purported to show evidence of ancient extraterrestrial microbes. x
  • 13
    Achondrites and Geochemical Affinities
    Having surveyed the first stage of mineral evolution during the solar nebula phase, turn to stage two, which saw an explosion of mineral diversity during the accretion of protoplanets. One key to understanding how minerals began to diversify during this period is the influential classification scheme developed by geochemist Victor Goldschmidt. x
  • 14
    The Accretion and Differentiation of Earth
    Follow the stages of Earth’s initial formation, as solar system debris in our neighborhood of space collided until one object dominated, growing into the embryonic Earth. Trace the process of differentiation that produced a distinct core, mantle, and crust; and learn how scientists know the details of Earth’s deep interior. x
  • 15
    How Did the Moon Form?
    Investigate the case of the massive moon. Where did Earth’s unusual moon come from? Explore the three possibilities considered before the Apollo moon landings gave scientists actual lunar samples to analyze. Also hear the story of Professor Hazen’s close encounter with moon dust. x
  • 16
    The Big Thwack!
    Continue your investigation of the moon’s origin. The simplest theory that explains the evidence is the “big thwack” model. Study this scenario, which has all the drama of a disaster movie—with colliding planets and a giant moon filling Earth’s sky and then slowly receding over the course of billions of years. x
  • 17
    The “Big Six” Elements of Early Earth
    Survey Earth’s six dominant elements: oxygen, magnesium, aluminum, silicon, calcium, and iron. Each has played a key role in Earth’s history, governed by the element’s distinctive chemical character. Examine this chemistry and learn, for example, why virtually all oxygen on the planet is locked in minerals and rocks. x
  • 18
    The Black Earth—Peridotite to Basalt
    Trace the evolution of Earth’s first rocks, which crystallized from the young planet’s seething magma oceans. Peridotite was the earliest major rock type to form. Discover why peridotite is now found mostly deep in the mantle, while a related rock called basalt covers 70 percent of Earth’s surface. x
  • 19
    Origins of the Oceans
    Follow Earth’s remarkable transition from a dry world with a uniform black basaltic surface to a wet planet of rivers, lakes, and oceans. Also learn about the special properties of water, which make it a universal solvent, a vehicle for life, and the chief architect of Earth’s surface features. x
  • 20
    Blue Earth and the Water Cycle
    Hunt for unseen water on the moon, Mars, and Earth, discovering that copious quantities exist in unlikely places, including hundreds of miles underground. Professor Hazen tells how his lab duplicates conditions in Earth’s deep interior to learn how minerals incorporate water under extreme pressure. x
  • 21
    Earth and Mars versus Mercury and the Moon
    Search for the reason that Earth and Mars have far greater mineral diversity than Mercury and Earth’s moon. Probe clues such as tiny zircon crystals that are the oldest surviving minerals on Earth. From this evidence, assemble a story of Earth’s global ocean and a time when the entire planet froze over. x
  • 22
    Gray Earth—Clays and the Rise of Granite
    Probe the essential features of clay minerals, which are abundant on both Earth and Mars. Then investigate why Earth has so much granite. Trace the origin of this rock, which abounds in Earth’s continents but is rare elsewhere in the solar system. x
  • 23
    Earth’s Mineralogy Takes Off—Pegmatites
    Continue your study of the stages of mineral evolution by looking at what happens when granite partially melts. Under the right conditions, the resulting crystals can be unusually large and strikingly beautiful. Such rocks are called pegmatites, and their formation involves some of the rarest elements on the planet. x
  • 24
    Moving Continents and the Rock Cycle
    Explore early attempts to explain why the continents fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, including Alfred Wegener’s continental drift theory and the expanding Earth hypothesis. Lay the groundwork for an understanding of the revolutionary theory of plate tectonics by reviewing the stages of the rock cycle. x
  • 25
    Plate Tectonics Changes Everything
    Research after World War II converged on a remarkable theory for the evolution of Earth’s crust and upper mantle: plate tectonics. Study the evidence that led scientists to conclude that a dozen shifting plates explain earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain ranges, deep sea trenches, and much more. x
  • 26
    Geochemistry to Biochemistry—Raw Materials
    Investigate the problem of defining life, focusing on the organic raw materials from which life must have begun. Learn that these materials are surprisingly common across the universe. Finally, look at the recent discovery of extremophiles and the implications for the existence of life on other worlds. x
  • 27
    Biomolecules—Select, Concentrate, Assemble
    Focus on the role of minerals in the origin of life. Nothing matches the solid, crystalline surfaces of minerals in their ability to select, concentrate, and assemble the biomolecules that are instrumental for life. Professor Hazen describes his lab’s groundbreaking research in this field. x
  • 28
    Why Reproduction? World Enough and Time
    What was the first collection of molecules that could copy itself? Investigate three theories of early reproduction: the reverse citric acid cycle, autocatalytic networks, and self-replicating RNA. Then travel to the world 3.8 billion years ago to consider conditions on Earth when life got its first foothold. x
  • 29
    Eons, Eras, and Strategies of Early Life
    By 3.5 billion years ago, life was established on Earth. After reviewing the geological timescale, follow the development of life over its first billion years, learning that biochemical processes mimicked the existing chemistry of rocks and gradually altered Earth’s surface environment. x
  • 30
    Red Earth—The Great Oxidation Event
    By 2.4 billion years ago, Earth’s atmosphere contained a small but significant amount of molecular oxygen. Where did it come from? Explore this dramatic development, in which cells evolved to gain energy from the sun while producing oxygen as a waste product. x
  • 31
    Earliest Microbial and Molecular Fossils?
    See how three rare and distinctive ancient rock types—black carbon-rich chert, black carbon-rich shale, and mound-like stromatolites—provide tantalizing evidence for life on Earth more than 3 billion years ago. Focus on the researchers who have blazed the trail in this challenging field. x
  • 32
    Microbial Mats and Which Minerals Can Form
    Carpet-like colonies of algae called microbial mats date back almost to the dawn of life. Because they use photosynthesis, microbial mats help date the Great Oxidation Event. Trace the far-reaching consequences of an oxygen-rich atmosphere on the evolution of minerals. x
  • 33
    Earth's Greatest Mineral Explosion
    Investigate the rise of mineral diversity in the wake of the Great Oxidation Event—a diversity that has far surpassed anything on other planets in the solar system. Discover that new minerals appeared, not steadily, but during relatively short episodes of intense activity associated with the formation of supercontinents. x
  • 34
    The Boring Billion? Cratons and Continents
    After the dramatic changes of Earth’s first 2.5 billion years, what came next appears to be a “boring billion” years of stasis. Turn back the clock to see what was really happening during this period, when continents were assembling around rugged pieces of proto-continental crust called cratons. x
  • 35
    The Supercontinent Cycle
    From a plate tectonics point of view, the boring billion was action-packed. Follow the formation and break-up of supercontinents, probe the nature of the global superocean, and identify the reasons that life on Earth changed little during this interval of radically altering geography. x
  • 36
    Feedback Loops and Tipping Points
    If pushed too far, Earth’s systems can become unbalanced and reach tipping points, with consequences for climate and life that are difficult to predict. Study the lessons of 850 million years ago, when the breakup of the Rodinia supercontinent caused a cascade of dramatic changes. x
  • 37
    Snowball Earth and Hothouse Earth
    Some 750 million years ago, Earth entered a period of extreme climate instability, starting with a brutal ice age. Seek the explanation for almost 200 million years of back-and-forth swings between snowball and hothouse phases. Also probe the evidence that Earth completely froze over. x
  • 38
    The Second Great Oxidation Event
    In a perfect demonstration of the interaction between geology and life, see how the snowball-hothouse cycles led to a Second Great Oxidation Event, which raised the level of oxygen to near-modern levels for the first time. Discover how different scientist teams deciphered the clues. x
  • 39
    Deep Carbon—Deep Life, Fuels, and Methane
    Cover the Deep Carbon Observatory, Professor Hazen’s 10-year, billion-dollar research project to understand the cycling of all forms of carbon on Earth, from the surface to deep in the planet. Focus on the mystery of the origin of Earth’s methane. x
  • 40
    Biominerals and Early Animals
    Having journeyed through almost 90 percent of Earth’s history, finally arrive at the evolution of animals. Learn how the animal kingdom would not have been possible without minerals. Professor Hazen shares his lifelong fascination with one ubiquitous early animal: trilobites. x
  • 41
    Between Rodinia and Pangaea—Plants on Land
    Once ozone collected in the upper atmosphere, life no longer had to stay submerged to avoid the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation. Survey the first half of the Paleozoic Era, between 542 and 400 million years ago, when a great green revolution occurred on dry land. x
  • 42
    Life Speeds Up—Oxygen and Climate Swings
    Focus on the second half of the Paleozoic, between 400 and 250 million years ago, when oxygen reached its highest levels ever. Terrestrial vertebrates emerged and life went through many crisis points, with repeated episodes of extinction followed by intervals of evolutionary novelty. x
  • 43
    From the “Great Dying" to Dinosaurs
    Search for the cause of the worst catastrophe ever to befall Earth’s biosphere: the Permo-Triassic Extinction, also called the Great Dying, which occurred roughly 250 million years ago. Then follow the rise of the dinosaurs, which became the dominant vertebrates for the next 185 million years. x
  • 44
    Impact! From Dinosaurs to Mammals
    The most famous of all extinctions occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. Analyze the role of an asteroid in this turning point in the evolution of mammals and other groups, which managed to survive and flourish while dinosaurs and countless other species perished. x
  • 45
    Humans and the Anthropocene Epoch
    Study the place of humans in geological time, the most recent portion of which has been called the Anthropocene epoch. Humans are changing Earth’s near-surface environment at a pace that may be unprecedented in more than 4.5 billion years of Earth history. x
  • 46
    The Next 5 Billion Years
    In the next two lectures, explore events that will affect Earth in eons to come. Begin with the end stages of our planet, some 5 billion years in the future. Then look from 2 billion to 50 million years from now, which is more than enough time to erase our every trace. x
  • 47
    The Nearer Future
    Glimpse 50,000 years into the future, when the greatest geographical changes on Earth will come from rising and falling sea levels. Then look a mere century ahead, focusing on the likely effects of rising greenhouse gases. The rate of change, not change per se, is the biggest concern. x
  • 48
    Coevolution of Geosphere and Biosphere
    Review the 10 stages of mineral evolution, from the solar nebula to the rise of animals with mineralized skeletons. Are we now entering an 11th stage? Close by considering an example of the coevolution of life and minerals in a remarkable formation on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. x

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Robert M. Hazen

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Robert M. Hazen, Ph.D.
George Mason University
Dr. Robert M. Hazen is Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and a research scientist at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Professor Hazen earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned a Ph.D. in Earth Science from Harvard University and did post-doctoral work at...
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The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 58.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful I have posted very few reviews but as I was shopping through course listings felt compelled. I have listened to over 80 Great Courses in a wide range of disciplines (history, philosophy, religion, science) and would rank this in my top 5. I was dumbfounded by this course. Professor Hazen takes us by the hand and walks us through his own evolution of ideas about mineral evolution and its relationship to the evolution of earth, life on earth, and how those compare to other planets and worlds. He relates how an innocent question from a colleague at a social gathering about whether there might have been clay (or some type of clay) in some earth epoch struck him and he began to ponder the implications of the question and the rest is pretty much the subject of these lectures and his life's work. (I may be hacking up the story but it was something to that effect). I suspect that many will find it surprising to learn such things as what actually are the most common elements on earth (4 elements comprise 90% and 6 elements 94%- and likely not the ones you would think). He talks about the most widely held theories about the origin of our moon and its evolution wrt the earth including the gradual lengthening of the time for a day (slowing of earth's rotation over millennia because of the earth and moon's gradual increase in distance from each other. I did not know these things and enjoyed learning them. Much of this he relates to the continued evolution of mineral diversity greatly confined to earth and the suspected relationship of this to the evolution of life. I have a medical and engineering background and that helps for listening alth clearly is not necessary. Professor Hazen's enthusiasm is infectious. It may have a little more detail than needed about the science and chemistry alth Professor Hazen felt it needed and I was content to listen. I recommend highly if you are at all interested in this type of thing. I learned a lot about minerals that I did not know but much much more as well.
Date published: 2016-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rocks and biology, a novel scientific perspective Video download In a recent Hollywood blockbuster, "The Martian", an astronaut is stranded on Mars and must be rescued before he runs out of food and air. It's only fiction, but the portrait of Mars, while accurate, reflects how most of us learned about geology and minerals in high school. Life and non-life co-exist in different spheres. Non-life is made up of the rocks and gasses that surround us. It is an unchanging "platform" from which life evolved — or was created if you are religiously inclined. When we praise the beauty of "nature", most of us refer to the thin carpet of life covering the non-living ball we call Earth. Even biblical imagery reflects this view. God creates the non-living stage. Then adds life, a fundamentally different entity. So our earliest impressions of the Earth sciences, again in high school, tend to be about unchanging classifications. Thousands of mineral "species" are mixed in various ways to constitute the rocks that make up our beaches and mountains. Even granted plate tectonics, we assume that these mineral deposits are constants, be it here, on Mars or any other rocky planet. ____________________ Dr Hazen's ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF EARTH is an introduction to the Earth and life sciences from a very different perspective. He divides the Earth's 4.5 billion year history into 10 stages, each one marking the creation of new mineral species because of the unique way our planet was "seeded" from space, remixed by dynamic subterranean magma currents, and most surprisingly altered by life itself. Life and minerals "co-evolve" under the cover of an atmosphere, itself mediating solar influences while being transformed by biological side-effects. The Earth starts off with approximately 250 mineral species and now has over 5000. The air we rely on also starts differently, a lethal mix. The concept of a non-living, fixed mineral and atmospheric "platform" is therefore a misleading image. Life and non-life co-evolved in a more complex dance that redefines how biology and geology should be taught. Lesson 48 offers a very good recap along with a neat description of the course's 3 main themes: • Incessant, sometimes cataclysmic change of the Earth's surface and air despite their apparent stability throughout or short lives. • A concrete feel for the Earth's 4.5 billion year development leading up to now. • The impact of life and mineral co-evolution on the environment we take for granted. Both sides cannot be understood in isolation. We understand life "narratively" through the process of evolution and time. The same explanatory process, Hazen believes, can cover biology and geology in a new mix. This has repercussions on other scientific ventures such as the search for extra-terrestrial life. ______________________ That being said, 48 lessons are a serious time commitment. This is a VERY comprehensive course that requires a pre-existing interest in planetary evolution. Moreover, the guidebook, while sufficiently detailed, offers no glossary for the many minerals and rock types mentioned. I had to rely on Wikipedia after most lessons to explain Hazen's many geological references. Still, this course offers a novel perspective that mixes life and earth sciences in a startling way. If you have teens interested in the sciences, traditional geology with its reliance on mineral classification alone may seem like a sterile chore. Not so with Hazen's course. It's also a great prequel to TGC's lecture series on biological history — A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE. Both complement each other very well. _____________________ Hazen's PRESENTATION is very active. His infectious enthusiasm can spill over into occasional hyperbole, but his use of maps and images makes video formats preferable to audio versions. The guidebook (337p) seems to closely follow his recently published book THE STORY OF EARTH (320p). The book, however, offers none of the maps and images that make the TGC package so outstanding. You may want to check out THE STORY OF EARTH's Table of Contents on Amazon to decide which purchase option makes the most sense. All in all, a worthwhile course as it combines several sciences in a novel way.
Date published: 2016-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this, despite the many noted quirks Yes, Professor Hazen seems to be have taken his lecture style from Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments." Yes, there is much repetition and filler, and the course would have benefited greatly if it had been two thirds its actual length. Yes, the rhetoric and hyperbole are sometimes a bit much - e.g., "There's a kind of heroic quality in the quest for Earth's deep truths." (Get it? "Deep" truths?? lol.) I still loved this course! Let me try to explain why: First, I'm interested in all areas of science, and Earth's geohistory is one which I know little about, so I learned a lot. Next, this area is likely to be, imho, inherently fascinating to any inquisitive creatures who happen to live on our planet. Further, our professor's innovation of approaching mineralogy as an active and ongoing process which is part of Earth's pre-organic and organic evolution adds an unexpected perspective which greatly helps to maintain interest. And finally, it is just absolutely astonishing how much scientists have been able to learn about the 4.567 billion years of our history. The details (especially repetitive lists of the elements, compounds, and minerals involved) occasionally may have been more than I wanted to know, but the overall effect is breathtaking and magnificent. One more serious objection - within the last two lectures, which suffer from a significantly lower than usual information density, the discussion of Earth's future seemed to me to greatly downplay the likely significance of impending climate change and global warming. I did not find it particularly reassuring to learn that if humans are wiped out, penguins are in a good position to take our place. So - to paraphrase Desiderata: With all its sham, drudgery and over-emoting, it is still a beautiful course. Be careful in your expectations. Strive to appreciate and enjoy it, and you probably will.
Date published: 2016-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing dynamic presentation I've listened to the prior two courses by Prof Hazen but this one takes the prize for its breathtaking sweep from literally the beginning of everything until the demise of the earth billions of years from now. It's got an emphasis on mineralogy (that's his background) but the info is very accessible, and he covers many many other aspects of Earth's evolution from a dizzying range of disciplines. But really my favorite part is his energetic, constantly engaging, I'd say riveting presentation. I've never encountered another teacher half as fun or thoughtful. And this is just a sideline! He's a real scientist proving things and publishing papers too! Do yourself a favor.
Date published: 2016-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An integrated synthesis of the evolution of earth This series takes you through a whirlwind of 4.5 billion years, and it encompasses cutting edge breakthroughs in a number of different scientific disciplines. It is a huge challenge to explain the latest developments in scientific instruments that led to this synthesis of many different "-ologies" that led to an integrated panorama, and Dr. Hazen does an amazing job. I can imagine that it is still a steep climb for someone without a scientific background, and you can sense that from some of the comments. As a Cell Biologist I was delighted to learn how far the field of mineralogy has matured with the tools that enable us to measure the isotopic composition of minute samples. The ability to weave a story of the evolution of the minerals on earth, from meteorites that contain grains from the supernovae fragments from which the terrestrial elements formed, to the explosion of new combinations of elements that became possible when oxygen was released from the rocks. A fascinating story in itself. He takes us through the evolution of the earth's crust, which is another amazing story of how the refluxing of magma gradually distilled the basalt to form granite, which, in turn, led to the formation of continents that preserved the molecular species from the conveyor belts of magma that, previously, returned the fragile organic molecules to the magma furnace. This is a rich and complex topic and each of the disciplines he brings into the story are replete with vocabulary that is unintelligible to those who haven't studied the field. I give him credit for exposing us to the technobabble but not getting bogged down in it. I can appreciate what a monumental task it is to weave this tapestry of abstruse topics together in an integrated system. One of the sad things about science is that each discipline propagates a nomenclature that, by definition (pun intended) excludes those outside our specialty from truly appreciating the pace of discovery. I find it sad because it prevents so many from appreciating just how marvelous creation is and how exciting it is to live in a time when the innate beauty of the pattern within it is becoming visible. It's a Herculean task, and I thank Bob for a wonderful job.
Date published: 2015-12-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting Material Painfully Presented The information in this course is very interesting, and I appreciated gaining a full picture of each stage of earth's formation. Professor Hazen brings together information from multiple different disciplines and is clearly passionate about the material. This broad scope and the focus on the interplay between astronomical, chemical and biological forces is the strength of the course. Unfortunately, however, the course suffers from jumbled organization, constant tangents and digressions, and frequent repetition. Professor Hazen has a breathless, overly dramatic style of speaking and litters his prose with superfluous descriptors. Nothing can be described simply as it is...everything is "fascinating", "amazing", a "mineralogic wonder", etc. More importantly, he jumps around from detail to detail so much that I found it hard to follow his overall point. The notes I took are filled with cross-outs, arrows trying to tie together different pieces of information and repeated information. He is constantly cataloging scores of very specific minerals, without explaining enough about them for the student to really understand what they are or why they are relevant. In addition, the course is as much a history of earth science as it is a history of earth (in other words, significant time is devoted to mini biographical sketches of key researchers, explanations of their experimental apparatus, and so on). I really wish TGC would work with this presenter to edit and streamline the course: it could be delivered in half the time with better clarity. I'm fairly new to TGC, but if you are looking for a good geology course I would highly recommend Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology by Prof. Renton. This course doesn't have quite the scope of Prof. Hazen's course but provides a much better explanation of minerals, plate tectonics and basic geologic processes. I found myself regularly referring back to my notes from Prof. Renton to be able to follow what Prof. Hazen was talking about.
Date published: 2015-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bang of a Course I was most grateful for Professor Hazen's mineralogical explanation for the creation of the universe! That's not to say the rest of the course wasn't worthwhile, it was most interesting and presented with a different slant than that of others on the subject. I must admit to being occasionally bothered by the professor's sense of drama, but never enough to upset the course. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very meticulous and patient presentation of material. I do warn people the percentage of "talking head" vs illustrations is high in this Great Course, but the enthusiasm and content make it worthwhile.
Date published: 2015-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A thought-provoking adventure Professor Hazen opens a door to the past, present and future. I felt like I was sitting on some astral plane watching the universe begin to form itself, then manifest into our planet right before my eyes. I'm 67 yrs old and have taken several physics, math, chem and biology courses, but have never before experienced such diverse information assembled into such an exciting, effective learning journey. Don't be fooled by the apparent emphasis on minerology, as the usual science-disciplne boundaries are ignored resulting in a smooth flow of amazing information. The course is even better than his book; "The Story of Earth" as the course includes many visual aids that add clarity to the subject matter. Now I'm thirsting for more information on the planet's minerology, and evolution in general - this has rekindled my appreciation of science. Now I need to buy more books to delve into the subject matter even further. Great stuff.
Date published: 2015-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from For the Life of Me ... The Origin and Evolution of Earth Robert M. Hazen This course, as lengthy as they come from The Great Courses, gets 4 of the 5 potential stars from me for two simple reasons: 1) the incessant mineralogy may appeal to graduate students who are forced to retain the difference between a sulfide and a sulfate but I don’t and can’t; 2) the sweet, breathless tone of Dr. Hazen seems more suited to a second grade class than to a second year doctoral candidate. Having said that, you might wonder whether I completed the course and if so, why. Yes, I completed the course and here’s why: 1) it amounts to the first complete description of the physical universe (i.e., save the existence of a “singularity”) I’ve ever gotten my brain wrapped around; 2) every single lecture has enough mind-altering surprises so that I learned to slog through the mineralogy as a price I was willing to pay for the education. This, of course, is the slog Dr. Hazen took in his day and he knows his cosmology, geology, climatology and biology as well as his mineralogy. I give him credit for pulling away from the electron microscope often enough that generalists get a wonderful picture of plate tectonics, fluffy granite, hearty microbes and an improbably changeable earth that could care less about any single species. The Great Courses does offer a couple of other courses, the titles of which suggest they might attempt to cover a portion of what Dr. Hazen takes on. But I haven’t taken them so cannot make comparative comments. And remember – you can always send the course back for full credit, no questions asked. It is for that reason I always award any Teaching Company course an extra star.
Date published: 2015-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Slow start but finishes spectacularly The first dozen lectures were a bit dry but the course builds to a point where it is simply riveting. That the current state of the earth is a remarkable product of multiple transformative changes beyond what I could have only recently conceived , prior to listening to this course; this is the reason I listen to the Great Courses. I could not give the course overall the highest rating because of the slow start but the course value is as good as it gets. Great delivery, outstanding organization and content, and a passion for the subject matter which is transmitted without question.
Date published: 2015-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Origin and Evolution of Earth Up to date, very detailed course. Truly eye-opening in its discussion of recent discoveries and research. Professor Hazen is a great presenter: very mobile and involving. The camera work is much improved from older courses: a bigger set, allowing room for the presenter to move around, and the use of varied camera angles gives the viewer a much better viewing experience.
Date published: 2015-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great in-depth presentation of Earth history This course was a great value because it was both comprehensive and rich in detail. There was enough information, especially regarding types of minerals, that I am sure I will revisit the course many times to absorb more knowledge, and this is exactly the kind of course that I try to buy. On each new listening, surely new insights will occur, with a corresponding deepening of my appreciation for my planet's life story. On a final note, I found this to be a good follow-up on your Big History course. My thanks to The Teaching Company and especially to Professor Hazen for putting in the hard work necessary to pull so much knowledge together into a coherent whole!
Date published: 2015-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic in both content and presentation Hazen is an excellent speaker and the course content was great.
Date published: 2015-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Origin and Evolution of Earth: This is a very extensive course and with 48 detailed lectures I would only recommend the DVD. I would have liked more visuals or computer generated examples. I did like the fact that Professor Hazen gave credit to his colleagues in many cases. For anyone going into this field it would be a great tool for students and a great gift to someone starting out.
Date published: 2015-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Once just isn't enough! A fast paced, entertaining course I bought for my wife. We both found it fascinating. Professor Hazen is outstanding. He is always enthusiastic, animated and inspired. I have many Great Courses that I like, but this one is in the top 2! I'm ready to start the course again!
Date published: 2015-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Earth Shattering ... Literally! In this fascinating series comprising no less than 48 substantial lectures, Professor Robert Hazen discusses at length a single topic: mineralogy. He brilliantly presents his thesis that minerals evolve and that, on Earth, they do so in close connection with living organisms. Thus, the Earth has never been, and still is not, a static body. Indeed, with volcanism, plate tectonics, climate change, the leisurely distancing away of the Moon, the gradual slowing down of its rotation and the perpetually varying composition of its atmosphere, the only constancy on Earth is change! Professor Hazen is an excellent story teller and a good pedagogue, who manages to repeat important elements often enough that they sink in but not to an extent that it becomes bothersome. Still, at times, technical information is quite dense and a second listening will certainly be useful to better grasp some details. Potential buyers of the audio version should be aware that it is actually the soundtrack to the video edition. Thus, a few explanations are lost, regarding the scratching property of harder minerals with respect to softer ones, for instance, and introductions to some lectures sound vocally overdone. Overall, however, the impact is minimal and the audio version is perfectly satisfactory. This mind-opening course is an excellent, more scientific complement to the Big History series given by Professor David Christian and is strongly recommended to all with a curious mind.
Date published: 2015-01-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Scientific Composite The professor does an excellent job of integrating chemistry, biology, and geology into a composite review of the life, history, and evolution of the multiple interacting systems which characterize our modern earth. Occasionally, his enthusiasm leads to a too rapid and complex series of ideas for easy initial understanding; however, review of the excellent accompanying course guidebook usually suffices to clarify any concepts which may have been presented too rapidly in the actual lecture.
Date published: 2014-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hazen does it again! Excellent -- no other word can describe the course as accurately.
Date published: 2014-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This one will stay with us for life. It changes the way we look at the earth and our own place on it. Humbling.
Date published: 2014-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Big Picture ... In the spirit of full disclosure … I am just halfway through Dr. Hazen’s course but am so enthusiastic about it that I’ve already written a review. If you read no further: my bottom line is “highly recommended”. In deciding whether or not to buy something on-line, I usually go to the worst reader-reviews to see what others find objectionable. With an excellent overall approval of 86%, the course is clearly a winner (politicians should aspire to do so well!). Its detractors disliked two things: Hazen’s presentation style (“melodramatic”) and his emphasis, “all about rocks”. Some felt unprepared for the mineralogy; I sympathize because mineralogy is a huge, fact-filled discipline and subjects like silicate classification can be difficult even for those who’ve had prior exposure. Hazen’s style is dramatic. He delivers his message in the style of the wonderful popularizer of science, Carl Sagan. Early on, Hazen engaged me with his genuine passion for the subject; I was “hooked”. He’s a storyteller. He uses the spoken word so effectively that graphics are often unnecessary. At times, he probably should have used a diagram though, for example to explain transfer faults in Lectures 24-25. More disclosure. I’ve had an avocational interest in mineralogy and the earth sciences for since I was a kid. I’ve wondered how minerals got to be; I especially wondered how the biosphere and the geosphere interact. It’s clearly more than, “animal, vegetable, or mineral”. I’m not smart enough to ask whether or not there were clay minerals in the Archean, but I can understand how Hazen might have had an epiphany over the question. Professor David Christian in his course, “Big History” (No. 8050), talks about eight historical periods, each having a vastly different time scale. As one crosses the threshold from one period to the next there is increasing complexity. Christian’s periods mirror Hazen’s stages of mineral evolution. From one threshold to the next there is an emergence of new, surprising features. I think you’ll see the correspondence between the two approaches. Christian’s emphasis on the “longue dureé” is no better illustrated than it is in the geologist’s overview, nor in the concept of mineral evolution. There is an inevitable overlap with many of the topics in Alex Filippenko’s fabulous, 96-lecture opus, “Understanding the Universe” (No. 1810). Hazen’s exhaustive treatment of meteorites and his lucid development of the information derived from studies of their composition is conspicuously absent from Filippenko’s course. Both devote a lecture to nucleosynthesis. Each led me to new understanding. I agree completely with comments in the review entitled, “All the sciences bundled into one”. The idea of mineral evolution will become a unifying theme in earth history, perhaps not as transformative as plate tectonics, but still a key idea in our view of the world around us. I enjoyed the comment by Truth, “Professor Hazen doesn´t really know what caused (the) Big Bang”. Really?? It’s not about having all the answers, but our respect for the scientific method and the never-ending quest for truth. The original singularity remains a mystery. There’s ample room for Creationist ideology and mystical wonder at those first nanoseconds when everything began. Finally, I agree with Prof. Hazen that there ought to be a Nobel in the earth sciences. The discipline is historical for all the negatives that implies. But geophysicists like Hazen are every bit as creative, and often do more spectacular (and dangerous) laboratory experiments, as do Nobelists in other disciplines. Bottom line. All three are fabulous courses: Christian’s, Filippenko’s and Hazen’s. Five stars, two thumbs up!
Date published: 2014-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from technical The course is very informative. However it has very technical content. As a person who has only a grade 12 education and not a science based graduation, it is mostly over my head. I will watch it many time to try understand some of the more technical bits. A little more to the common educated people would be good.
Date published: 2014-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comments on Origin and Evolution of Earth Hazen presents a masterful account of the evolution of the earth and of life from the formation of the earth onward. Although I am usually involved with the more physics-oriented studies of the world, I enjoyed this geology point of view greatly and learned many new things from the lectures. The point about chirality of minerals and of organic molecules was extremely deep, for example. The course covers everything well, and should be a class for all of humanity.
Date published: 2014-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent The professor covered many scientific principles which were the clearest to me. He was a little overly dramatic at the beginning but the quality of his presentation was excellent.
Date published: 2014-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quest for knowledge Rarely, do I ever give top ratings for anything. This time, I'll make an exception. My wife and I are only midway through the course, but I still feel I can evaluate it and rank it highly. It is just that good. We both have scientific backgrounds but they were formally obtained more than 50 years ago. We understand the topic as presented, enjoy the "performance," and value the new concepts we have learned. The course makes us very excited and provides good fare to discuss at the dinner table.
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mineral Evolution and more! The title of the course is a bit too general, it is really a course about how minerals evolve from the Big Bang until now, but that notwithstanding, it is a brilliant course! I still don't know magnetite from feldspar, but the sweep of this course is so interesting, covering subjects from plate tectonics, meteorites, planetary evolution, the creation of the moon, and most importantly, the impact of Earth's biosphere on mineral evolution, I learned A LOT about contemporary Earth Sciences and related disciplines. Professor Hazen is an excellent lecturer and the supporting graphics are very well done. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Earth Sciences and the evolution of Earth.
Date published: 2014-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Science for the 21st Century Dr. Hazen does a superlative job of ushering science into the 2010's with an absolutely spellbinding course on what I would term evolutionary geology. All previous attempts at the study of geology ended in narcolepsy or catatonia for me but not this one. By adopting an evolutionary approach to geology, Dr. Hazen succeeds in transforming what for me is a quintessentially soporific subject, into one of utter and complete wonder. Due to Dr. Hazen's reorganization of earth's "box of rocks," I finally "get it," and feel my knowledge of earth history to be correspondingly enlarged. The interrelatedness of all scientific disciplines, moreover, is never quite so apparent as in this course. I spent 6 years at a university, and if all courses were as good as this one, I'd still be there! Bravo.
Date published: 2014-07-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from "All About Rocks" could be the course title, and would be more accurate than the actual title. About half of the lectures will be interesting to the non-geologist, non-chemist, and non-scientist. The other half of the lectures drone on and on reciting the names and chemical compositions of different rocks.
Date published: 2014-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tour de Force As another reviewer has noted Hazen is amazin. I generally enjoy The Great Courses, and have taken courses ranging from Art History to Astrophysics, back to Philosophy and into Ancient History. This course ranks in my top three! My basic understanding of the earth’s history has been obtained over a lifetime of interest and personal study, even if somewhat light on technical details. Hazen has filled in many of those weaker areas. His explanations were just right to bring many of those disparate concepts together. His presentations on the dynamics of both mineral and organic evolution filled in many of the areas in which I felt somewhat weak. The inter-relationship between mineral and organics was particularly well done, and very welcome. I would consider this course a true tour de force. Although excellent the course had a few weak spots for me. Even as a former Chemistry Major, I still found myself at times a bit bored with some of the detailed chemical analysis and formulas. There were times that his continual review and repetition of concepts already discussed could have used better editing. But these are very minor problems, and did not detract in a significant way from the total course. Finally, I greatly enjoyed his demeanor and presentation style. The intensity he held for and communicated for the subject matter was very refreshing. If you can only do one course this year, put this on at the top of your list.
Date published: 2014-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I've been enjoying these programs for about 14 years and this is the best one yet. If you are a historian, theologian, biologist, chemist, yogi(ni), astronomer; philosopher: this is probably the best generalist from a Polymath and update of science that I've come across in years.
Date published: 2014-05-07
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