Investigating Earth’s Earliest Life (MIT News)

Photo of a woman in lab holding up and looking into a small specimen jar.

MIT graduate student Kelsey Moore uses genetic and fossil evidence to study the first stages of evolution on our planet. (Photo: Ian MacLellan)

A brilliant hands-on activity by her second grade teacher got Kelsey Moore, now an MIT graduate student, wondering about the earliest life on Earth.  Students and teachers alike can find inspiration in her story on MIT News — and of course, OCW’s got relevant courses too.

In the second grade, Kelsey Moore became acquainted with geologic time. Her teachers instructed the class to unroll a giant strip of felt down a long hallway in the school. Most of the felt was solid black, but at the very end, the students caught a glimpse of red.

That tiny red strip represented the time on Earth in which humans have lived, the teachers said. The lesson sparked Moore’s curiosity. What happened on Earth before there were humans? How could she find out?

A little over a decade later, Moore enrolled in her first geoscience class at Smith College and discovered she now had the tools to begin to answer those very questions.

Moore zeroed in on geobiology, the study of how the physical Earth and biosphere interact. During the first semester of her sophomore year of college, she took a class that she says “totally blew my mind.”

“I knew I wanted to learn about Earth history. But then I took this invertebrate paleontology class and realized how much we can learn about life and how life has evolved,” Moore says. A few lectures into the semester, she mustered the courage to ask her professor, Sara Pruss in Smith’s Department of Geosciences, for a research position in the lab.

Now a fourth-year graduate student at MIT, Moore works in the geobiology lab of Associate Professor Tanja Bosak in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences…

Keep reading >

Start your own exploration of life’s origins on Earth, with the free lecture notes and more in OCW’s 12.007 Geobiology, co-taught by Professors Tanja Bosak and Roger Summons.

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