TEACHING GEOSCIENCE AND ASTROBIOLOGY AT LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
The aim of the program is to give students hands-on experience utilizing the scientific method to investigate the habitability of hydrothermal systems at Lassen. The program is based on geologic, hydrologic, and biologic fieldwork at Lassen Volcanic National Park and associated laboratory experiments and sample analyses. The program develops students’ skills in observation, note-taking, measurement, data analysis and synthesis, while exposing them to natural environments they have not previously experienced and potential career paths in the natural sciences.
The ‘extreme’ environments that exist in the hydrothermal systems at Lassen highlight the key processes at play in determining habitability in the present day as well as on the early Earth and Mars. As such, we have found this ‘place-based approach’ to be very engaging for students, piquing their interest via the exotic locale as well as the high contrast in conditions between the hydrothermal sites and more clement environments. As educators, basing the course on a complex and dynamic field locale encourages us to continually revise and adapt the course to changing field conditions, keeping the driving scientific questions fresh for both us and the students.