Lecturers &


A free-ranging review of all aspects of the mind-boggling question: "Are we alone?". The material will include discussions on the origin and survival of life, current hi-tech searches for radio signals from extra-terrestrials, discoveries of new planetary systems, possible types of life-forms, Einstein's relativity, space-travel, and much more. A team of researchers will present the lectures, and often disagree with each other. The controversies and the science behind the disputes will be clearly presented.

How to enrol

If you are a UNSW student who wishes to take this subject as part of the General Education program, you can enrol through the NewSouth Student Online webpages. Students majoring in Physics may not take this course as part of the General Education program.

For detailed information on enrolment procedure see the UNSW General Education Handbook and/or speak to the Enrolment Section on 9385-3085.

If you are not a member of UNSW and wish to attend this lecture series, you should contact the Admissions Office on 9385-3156 to obtain the appropriate entry forms ("Non-Award Enrolments").

Lecture and Tutorials

Every week there will be a one hour lecture followed by a tutorial in the second hour (see also the course outline).The lectures will be held in the Burrows lecture theatre in the Old Main Building. The time slots for this course are as follows:


Tuesdays, 4 - 5pm, Burrows Theatre


Tuesdays, 5 - 6pm, Tutorial Rooms

At the beginning of session you will be required to sign up for one of a number of tutorial groups:



John Webb

OMB 144

Jessie Christiansen

OMB 145A

Balthasar Indermuehle


Matthew Bainbridge


The main purpose of the tutorials in this course is to broaden the scope of lectures in two ways:

  • (i) to explore in more detail and thus better understand the concepts/material covered in lectures,
  • (ii) to digress onto other (related) topics not covered in the lectures. Ideally this takes place through open discussion which involves everybody rather than just a monologue from the tutor. To facilitate this discussion a few students each week will be assigned to different sides of an argument. The tutorial the following week will open with a debate between the two sides, based on the research they have done during the week. These debates will form 20% of your mark, in addition to the 20% participation mark.


The general education course GenS 4014 will be assessed as follows :









Essay - on the 3rd of October (your tutorial in Week 10), you will be required to submit a 2000 word essay on a topic of your choice. Here is a list of suggested topics if you're looking for some ideas. Note however that you will be awarded an extra point if you come up with your own topic! A maximum of two students per tutorial group will be allowed to cover the same topic. You must, therefore, obtain approval of your topic from your tutor! Do not leave this until the last minute or you might find that your chosen topic is already being covered by two other students. Late essays will receive 10% less credit for each day of lateness. For example, if you hand in the essay on the following Thursday, it will be two days late and your essay grade will be reduced by 20%.

Quiz - a 20 min internal quiz will be held during the second hour in week 14 (31st October). The quiz will be multiple choice. Here is an example of what the quiz might look like.

Debate - at the beginning of each tutorial two teams of two students each (determined by the tutor in the previous week) will hold a debate on a topic suppplied by the tutor early in the session. Each debator should speak for no longer than 5-10 minutes, followed by a class discussion.

Participation - tutorials (and lectures) run a lot better when students are well prepared and actively participate during discussion time. 20% of the course mark is therefore reserved to assess you on this basis.

Phys 2170, the second year elective subject, will consist of the same lectures but different tutorials and a different assessment scheme. See here for details.


GenS4014 is not available to students of the Faculty of Science.
Interested Science & Technology students should enrol in the parallel course PHYS2170 which runs in second session.

Enquiries, Problems, Administrative Matters

For all of these, please contact your tutor who will be happy to deal with the problem or refer you to the course convener, Prof John Webb. If you have any comments, suggestions or requests regarding the web pages, please contact John Webb.

If you are absent from an University class for a legitimate reason, e.g. illness, you should report that fact to the Registrar in the Student Centre, together with any supporting documents, e.g. medical certificates. This is of particular importance if your absence may affect your final assessment grade in a subject.

If you discontinue the subject you should notify the School of Physics First Year Teaching Unit, OMB 67, and also complete and lodge the appropriate form with the Registrar.

Page maintained by Jessie Christiansen.
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