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Center for Engineering, Science and Mathematics Education

Website Update

Cosmic Evolution Project

The mission of the cosmic and global evolution project is to provide inspiration, training, and educational resources to help current and future teachers, informal science educators, and others explore and explain the composition, structure and evolutionary history of the universe and the Earth from the Big Bang to big brains and AI. The focus is on what nature does rather than what scientists do.

Project participants may conduct secondary research on advanced topics in cosmic and global evolution including the cosmic web, the first stars and galaxies, interstellar and intergalactic medium, supernovas, remnant stars, planets, Earth’s geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and/or complex life. They apply the principles of thematic interpretation to prepare educational materials for the website, natural science courses, and/or special events for students and the public.

Scholars may organize special events, workshops, or other activities. They may prepare and give original guest lectures, supervise student projects, mentor interns, or organize professional workshops. They may develop and teach an upper division course in thematic interpretation of advanced topics in cosmic evolution. They may teach courses in astronomy, astrophysics, Earth sciences, and/or life sciences.

Scholars may receive stipends, hourly wages, assigned time, summer salary, or other forms of compensation or credit as event organizers, summer intern mentors, or project leaders. They may collaborate with others to create original thematic content for the website that is under construction at https://evolution.calpoly.edu and/or for academic natural science courses and informal natural science programs using system models, simulations, animations, and/or educational games.

The project works with CESAME, the Center for Engineering, Science, and Math Education on projects of mutual interest. CESAME welcomes employment inquiries from undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, high school or college teachers of any rank, informal educators, or scientists employed in or retired from any organization.

Why participate?

Whether you are doing primary research, teaching, or engaged in public outreach, this project may help you achieve your personal educational and professional goals. You will have opportunities to explore what nature does and to hone your science communication skills. The National Academy of Sciences says that the role of science is to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. Astrophysicist Eric Chaisson asks how islands of complexity can exist for long periods of time in an otherwise sea of chaos. The guiding principle of our system analysis is that, as statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong but some are useful.”

What is secondary research?

Secondary research uses research material published in research reports and other reliable documents. It is an efficient way to gain expertise on advanced topics and to analyze and synthesize the findings of numerous researchers. It is a method used by both generalists and specialists. It provides opportunities to explore and explain existing information in novel ways for the benefit of students, educators, researchers, and the public.

We do secondary research to analyze and synthesize responses to questions like these:

How do stars synthesize and disperse the elements of the Periodic Table?

How did large scale structures form from a nearly homogeneous early universe?

Why is dark matter our friend?

What roles do black holes play in the formation of stars and the evolution of the universe?

How do gas giant planets form?

Why is the surface of Venus as hot at the poles as the equator why doesn’t it cool during the very long nights?

What is the origin of life? How did complex multicellular life evolve?

Do beneficial viruses foster evolution, enhance biodiversity, and mitigate climate change and ocean acidification?

Are consciousness and free will illusions

What is thematic interpretation?

Thematic interpretation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thematic_interpretation is a well-established educational tool for engaging non-captive audiences that is equally effective in the classroom and lab. Our approach is based on twenty years of experience applying Dr. Sam Ham’s principles of thematic interpretation to natural history and natural science studies. Two powerful general themes are: “Everything you see depends on things you don’t see” and “Small things make big changes”. Visit https://evolution.calpoly.edu/purpose for details about project purposes and plans.

What do animations, simulations, computer models, and games do?

Illustrations, animations, simulations, computer models, and games foster engagement in classrooms, independent studies, and informal venues. Participants who develop or use these tools gain greater insight into the processes that influence the evolution of naturally occurring systems.

Opportunities for scholars

Scholars may receive competitive compensation for any of the following roles:

  1. Event organizers
    1. recruit and host the annual consulting guest speaker for an audience of ~400 and document scholarly results.
    2. work with students to prepare and present quarterly student faculty special events associated with Dark Matter Day, Darwin Day, and/or Earth Day featuring original thematic content and document any scholarly results.
  2. Summer intern mentors supervise summer interns to create original thematic content for special events, poster presentations, hands-on activities, outdoor programs, professional workshops, and/or the evolution website.
  3. Project leaders collaborate with others to create original thematic content for the website and/or for academic natural science courses and informal natural science programs, using system models, simulations, and/or animations.

Qualifications for student interns and scholars


  • Students seeking internships should be pursuing a STEM degree and be interested in science education.
  • Scholars applying for part-time employment should have an interest in science education and a degree in physics, astronomy, astrophysics, Earth and planetary sciences, marine science, life sciences, or other natural sciences.


  • MS or PhD in physics, astronomy, astrophysics, any of the Earth, planetary, or life sciences
  • Expertise in the composition, structure, and evolutionary history of the Earth and/or universe
  • Experience as a natural science teacher and/or informal science educator
  • Affiliation with Cal Poly, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, Berkeley, UCLA or UC Davis
  • Resident of San Luis Obispo county or availability to visit Cal Poly periodically

Scholars are responsible for advancing the mission of the cosmic evolution project. Scholars should have general knowledge of the composition, structure, processes, and evolutionary history of the Earth or the universe.


For more information, contact project founder Bob Field at rfield@calpoly.edu or CESAME director Chance Hoellwarth at choellwa@calpoly.edu. To apply for paid part-time work as a project leader, event organizer, mentor, or intern, please contact Jenny Cruz at cesame@calpoly.edu or (805) 756-2859.

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