The Center for Astrobiology at the University of Colorado

About The Center

What is Astrobiology?



For Undergraduates

For Graduate Students




Graduate Certificate Program in Astrobiology at CU

The goal of the graduate certificate program in astrobiology is to train graduate students in the entire breadth of the discipline, in order to enhance their ability to contribute to the growth and development of the field. The program provides training that will support students in carrying out the interdisciplinary research necessary for truly innovative astrobiology research. We have created a certificate program rather than a separate astrobiology degree program because we want to add to what the students get from their core disciplines rather than replace it. For example, a student in molecular biology needs to have the in-depth training provided by that program that is necessary to carry out cutting-edge research in that field, and we want to add to that by providing the broader context that will allow them to apply their results across the breadth of astrobiology.

Requirements for graduate certificate

The certificate requires 12 hours of coursework that includes the following requirements:

(i) Graduate course in astrobiology (3 units). This course is a broad introduction to the entire field of astrobiology. It includes the formation and history of the Earth, the origin and evolution of life on Earth and the relevance to the potential for life elsewhere, the history of our solar system and the potential for life to exist on its planets and satellites, the properties and characteristics of extrasolar planets and the implications for life elsewhere, the potential for intelligent life elsewhere, and the philosophical and societal issues in astrobiology.

(ii) Graduate course in history and philosophy of astrobiology (3 units). Course to be selected from new courses to be offered or from existing courses with approval of program. These courses will deal with various aspects of history and philosophy of science, the nature of science, the nature of life, science and religion, and societal implications of the search for life elsewhere. Other courses from the existing list of courses taught (such as philosophy of science) may be substituted with approval of the program.

(iii) Six units of additional graduate or upper-level undergraduate courses that are relevant to astrobiology. These are to be taken outside of the student's core discipline (e.g., a biology student will take them in the physical sciences or in biological areas not normally a part of their program). Courses will count toward the certificate with approval of the program. Examples of appropriate courses are:

Astrophysics I & II
Planets, Moon, and Rings
Planetary Atmospheres
Planetary Surfaces and Interiors
Molecular Biology; Microbial Diversity and the Biosphere
Principles of Phylogenetics
Evolutionary History of Photosynthetic Life
Microbial Ecology

In addition, graduate seminars from outside of the student's core program can count toward this requirement. No more than six units can count toward both the regular degree and the graduate certificate.


The Director of the CU Center for Astrobiology is Dr. Brian Hynek.

The Co-Investigators of the grant from the NAI currently act as an oversight committee for astrobiology activities on campus and also provide oversight for the Graduate Certificate program. At present, this includes:

      Bruce Jakosky (GEOL and LASP)
      John Bally (ASTR)
      Carol Cleland (PHIL)
      Emily CoBabe-Ammann (LASP)
      Shelley Copley (MCDB)
      William Friedman (EPOB)
      Thomas McCollom (LASP)
      Stephen Mojzsis (GEOL)
      Norman Pace (MCDB)
      Robert Pappalardo (LASP)
      Alexis Templeton (GEOL)
      Brian Toon (PAOS)
      Mike Yarus (MCDB)

The Program Director is the the main point of contact for advising students, monitoring their progress, and approving courses as applying to the certificate program.
The above oversight group will provide additional oversight for students within their home departments.
The Graduate Certificate in Astrobiology will be awarded upon the student's completion of degree requirements in their home department. Upon request from a student in the program, the Program Director and the student's advisor (see below) will determine whether a student has met the requirements for the certificate and will generate a letter to the appropriate department head and Dean. A student will not receive the certificate unless they previously have been admitted into the program; this helps ensure that students receive no "surprises" regarding whether they have met certificate requirements.

Admission to the graduate certificate program in astrobiology will be automatic upon request for students enrolled in graduate degree programs in a related or appropriate field on the CU campus. Each student admitted to the program will select a faculty advisor, expected to be a member of the oversight committee from the student's home department (or closest relevant department) to provide guidance on appropriate courses and direction. Continuation as part of the program will depend on students being held in good standing by their home department and by the Graduate School.