GeoBiology Course Objectives and Structure

GeoBiology is a scientific forum for examining the areas where biology and earth sciences overlap. Since we offered our first geobiology summer course in 2002, these intensive courses have shaped a new field of science, a field that is revealing a new perspective on the history of life on Earth and how we might find signs of life on other planets.

Course dates: June 10–July 18, 2016 

Download the course flier in PDF format.

Applications for the 2016 International GeoBiology Course are no longer being accepted.



GeoBiology is designed to give all its participants - the graduate students and the faculty researchers - an overview of the field and to initiate contacts between members of its diverse scientific disciplines. The course brings together microbiology, geochemistry, earth systems sciences and geology, and it encourages the interaction of students and instructors in a uniquely informal setting.

GeoBiology will train students to identify topics of interest, pose research questions and find ways to answer them. In the course of the four-week course, we try to promote collaborations between young scientists and established investigators. The success of these collaborations will advance the careers of young researchers, advance the field of geobiology and define a new "language of geobiology" for generations of new scientists.

Course Structure

GeoBiology is structured around fieldwork and a combination of morning lectures, afternoon laboratory work and evening colloquia. Course work begins early in the morning and often runs late into the evening. The work can be intense, but the experiences shared by participants during this four-week program have led to many long-lasting friendships and collaborations.


At the beginning of the course, we travel to the Eastern Sierra and nearby sites of interest to introduce the participants to microbial ecology, field geology and geochemistry as it happens in natural settings. When we return to California and take up residence on Catalina Island, we will examine microbial and geological systems on the island and take a close look at the marine environment.

Field trips will give us the opportunity to examine characteristic microbial habitats and to collect geochemical samples and microbes for enrichment and isolation in the laboratory. We will make chemical and physical measurements in situ, and we will conduct analyses of these environmental samples and employ in vitro techniques to define environmental determinants in particular habitats.


Lectures cover the role of microbes as living chemical agents and the diversity of microbial genomes. These genomes display the majority of geophysiological "inventions" made in the course of evolution.

The lectures on the microbial world will be complemented by lectures on biochemistry, mineralogy, sediment geochemistry, paleontology, and earth and atmospheric evolution.

Preparatory discussions, computer modeling and exercises on particular subjects are offered as requested by participants, and specific themes will be discussed during a symposium.

Laboratory work

The laboratory work is investigative. We would like you to discover new processes and microbes and understand their interactions and activities. Research themes are designed to educate students about current techniques in geobiology and to encourage independent research. The students will carry out this research in groups or individually with faculty assistance and independently.

The course requires complete student participation in all aspects of the program for the full duration of the course.

For further information, please contact:

GeoBiology Course Coordinator, Ann Close
Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies
University of Southern California
3454 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, California 90089-0153
phone: (213) 740-6780, fax: (213) 740-6720