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

Explore the frontiers of science with this revolutionary course that rewrites the history of our planet as a single, compelling story involving the coevolution of rocks and life.
The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 117.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Super. What a wonderful and thorough treatment of a subject that is now, with concerns about global climate, on the front burner. I was just amazed at the precision that geologists could date past events –two, sometimes three significant figures. Wow! Lecture 36 (Feedback Loops and Tipping Points) was excellent and conveyed one of the most important points –that climate and geological change is driven by both positive and negative feedback processes. And we now know from chaos theory that predictability for highly nonlinear systems such as Earth is fraught. Putting these two observations together, we should all be suspicious that reduction of carbon emissions --and only limited reductions will be feasible-- will suffice to arrest global warming. The non-combustion positive feedback processes (albedo reduction, permafrost melting, etc.) may prevail. Most important are the insights of mineral evolution and the role of minerals in life’s chemical and biological reproduction processes. Lecture #28 (Why Reproduction? World Enough and Time) is worth the time invested. This course is a must-view, must-contemplate exercise. Finally, Lecture 16 (The Big Thwack!), a theory of how our moon formed was a revelation. My wife and I enjoyed this immensely. A real education. HWF & ISF, Mesa AZ.
Date published: 2024-04-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Self-promotion impedes message The lectures often read like a multi-hour CV. The professor never misses a chance to tell us where he went to school, what grants he received, etc.
Date published: 2024-04-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from gave up on this one oppressively focused on minerals; about as boring & time wasting as can be.
Date published: 2024-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a great lecture I like the set, and the lecturer actually uses it. He is good. He is expressive, and he moves around, and he includes a lot of information. It was both educational and enjoyable.
Date published: 2024-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really interesting and well done I wasn’t sure about this course when I bought it but it surprised and surpassed me in every lecture. While somewhat similar to Big History it has much more science, though at a very understandable level, and a very unique thesis. Who knew granite floated!? The lectures are well delivered and the right length. I really enjoyed this course and it opened my eyes to our world in a whole new way.
Date published: 2024-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting focus, but far to detailed I am currently on episode 34 of 45, about 20 more episodes than necessary. The topic is essential, the focus on minerality is interesting, the depth of detail is excessive. This could have been a great presentation if it had been condensed and refocused to about 25 lectures. I found myself losing interest with detail and receptiveness. This would have been a good course for someone studying mineralogy, but for a lay listener with interest in the “Origin and Evolution of Earth,” it is excessively detailed and becomes quite tedious.
Date published: 2024-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Facinating This was a truly fascinating course. The presentations by the instructor were excellent. The subject matter was even better! Connections were shown among different systems that I've never considered. I finished that course with a whole new way of thinking about plant Earth.
Date published: 2023-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding survey of a BIG topic I didn't anticipate going into this course that it would so thoroughly hook me into what I had considered the dry subject of mineralogy. But it did exactly that by tying the subject into a broader context ranging from cosmology to biology to climate. In that respect, it was reminiscent of David Christian's outstanding course on Big History. Professor Hazen clearly understood that he was speaking to a mixed audience, and while he didn't shy away from technical aspects of his subject, he always kept things at a level that could be understood by almost anyone watching the program. What I found especially interesting was some of his prescient thoughts about the near future of climate - in the ten years since the course came out, many of those predictions have indeed started to come true. I'll be searching for other courses he's done once I post this review.
Date published: 2023-11-04
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The evolution of minerals has played a central role all across the surface of the planet and throughout its interior. In The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence, experience the thrill of piecing together this story in an enlightening new perspective. In 48 lectures by Professor Robert M. Hazen, the noted scientist who pioneered the study of mineral evolution, you follow events from the big bang to the formation of Earth to the many twists and turns in our planet's evolution. In a course suitable for scientists and nonscientists alike, Professor Hazen recounts Earth's story through 10 stages of mineral evolution.


Robert M. Hazen

The best thing about teaching a Great Course is how much you learn in the process-from colleagues, from the fabulous Great Courses professional staff, and from listeners, who send amazing stories and ask amazing questions.


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 Cambridge University in England before joining the Carnegie Institution. At Carnegie, Dr. Hazen's research focuses on high-pressure organic synthesis and the origin of life.

Professor Hazen has authored 15 books, including the best-selling Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy and The Sciences: An Integrated Approach. He has written over 220 articles for both scholarly and popular publications such as Newsweek, Scientific American, The New York Times Magazine, Technology Review, and Smithsonian Magazine.

He has received the Mineralogical Society of America Award, the American Chemical Society Ipatieff Prize, the Educational Press Association Award, the American Crystallographic Association's Science Writing Award, and Fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Professor Hazen serves on the advisory boards for The National Committee for Science Education, Encyclopedia Americana, NOVA, and the Carnegie Council. He appears frequently on radio and television programs on science.

By This Professor

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


Mineralogy and a New View of Earth

01: 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.

38 min
Origin and Evolution of the Early Universe

02: 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.

32 min
Origins of the Elements-Nucleosynthesis

03: 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.

33 min
Ur-Minerals, First Crystals in the Cosmos

04: 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.

32 min
Presolar Dust Grains-Chemistry Begins

05: 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.

32 min
Coming to Grips with Deep Time

06: 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.

30 min
The Birth of the Solar System

07: 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.

30 min
The Early Solar System-Terrestrial Planets

08: 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.

30 min
Hints from the Gas Giants and Their Moons

09: 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.

30 min
Meteorites-The Oldest Objects You Can Hold

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.

29 min
Mineral Evolution, Go! Chondrite Meteorites

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.

33 min
Meteorite Types and Planetesimals

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.

33 min
Achondrites and Geochemical Affinities

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.

32 min
The Accretion and Differentiation of Earth

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.

34 min
How Did the Moon Form?

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.

30 min
The Big Thwack!

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.

32 min

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.

33 min
The Black Earth-Peridotite to Basalt

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.

34 min
Origins of the Oceans

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.

32 min
Blue Earth and the Water Cycle

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.

32 min
Earth and Mars versus Mercury and the Moon

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.

31 min
Gray Earth-Clays and the Rise of Granite

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.

33 min
Earth's Mineralogy Takes Off-Pegmatites

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.

30 min
Moving Continents and the Rock Cycle

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.

30 min
Plate Tectonics Changes Everything

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.

32 min
Geochemistry to Biochemistry-Raw Materials

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.

32 min
Biomolecules-Select, Concentrate, Assemble

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.

30 min
Why Reproduction? World Enough and Time

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.

31 min
Eons, Eras, and Strategies of Early Life

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.

30 min
Red Earth-The Great Oxidation Event

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.

31 min
Earliest Microbial and Molecular Fossils?

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.

31 min
Microbial Mats and Which Minerals Can Form

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.

31 min
Earth's Greatest Mineral Explosion

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.

32 min
The Boring Billion? Cratons and Continents

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.

31 min
The Supercontinent Cycle

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.

31 min
Feedback Loops and Tipping Points

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.

30 min
Snowball Earth and Hothouse Earth

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.

31 min
The Second Great Oxidation Event

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.

30 min
Deep Carbon-Deep Life, Fuels, and Methane

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.

30 min
Biominerals and Early Animals

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.

32 min
Between Rodinia and Pangaea-Plants on Land

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.

31 min
Life Speeds Up-Oxygen and Climate Swings

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.

31 min
From the

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.

31 min
Impact! From Dinosaurs to Mammals

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.

33 min
Humans and the Anthropocene Epoch

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.

32 min
The Next 5 Billion Years

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.

31 min
The Nearer Future

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.

31 min
Coevolution of Geosphere and Biosphere

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.

41 min