Columbia University Launches Open Online Course—Frontiers of Science: Climate & Us

by | Oct 19, 2022

Frontiers of Science: Climate & Us course image.

NEW YORK, New York. Columbia University has released an open online course, Frontiers of Science: Climate & Us, the first of four planned courses adapted from Frontiers of Science, one of The Core Curriculum courses at Columbia. The course challenges students to think about the world around them, and the ways in which science can help us answer questions about nature and ourselves. Climate & Us launched on October 19, 2022, and is open for free enrollment with an optional paid verified certificate on the platform. 

The course, led by David J. Helfand, Professor of Astronomy, explores the factors that set the Earth’s temperature, starting from the basic climate equation, Energy In = Energy Out. It examines the role of astronomical factors (sunspots and the eccentricity, obliquity, and precession of Earth in its orbit around the Sun), the reflectivity of Earth’s surface, and the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere in setting the Earth’s climate.

The course considers various tools used in climate science that allow scientists to compare contemporary climate change with natural changes that have occurred in the past, as well as to generate future climate forecasts. By investigating the carbon isotope content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, students learn about the origin of the extra carbon and the role that humans have played in its release into the atmosphere. Finally, students will explore the role of positive and negative feedback loops and why they make climate modeling particularly challenging. 

Produced by the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning, David Helfand, and Ivana N. Hughes, Director of Frontiers of Science, the course’s six sections are available for self-paced access and feature lectures and quizzes. 

The Climate & Us course is available at: 

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About the Instructors
David J. Helfand is a Professor of Astronomy who has served on the faculty of Columbia University since 1977, nearly half that time as Chair of the Department of Astronomy. His pedagogical efforts have focused on teaching science to non-science majors. In 2004, he succeeded in implementing his vision for all Columbia University first-year students to take the Frontiers of Science course as part of the University’s famed, century-old Core Curriculum. 

Ivana Nikolic Hughes is the Director of Frontiers of Science, Columbia’s core science class, and a Senior Lecturer in Discipline in the Department of Chemistry. As the Frontiers of Science director, Ivana collaborates each semester with faculty and administrators across all ranks and science disciplines on the development of the curriculum.

About the Center for Teaching and Learning at Columbia University
The Center for Teaching and Learning partners with faculty, students, and colleagues across the University to support excellence and innovation in teaching and learning. The CTL is committed to advancing the culture of teaching and learning for professional development, curricular enhancement, and academic support through its programs, services, and resources.