Course-level objectives and learning outcomes

Students will …

  • Learn about the problems and questions related to the Earth and other planets, as well as the environment that motivate research at Rice’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences (EEPS).
  • Learn through discussions with graduate students and faculty about the broad range of research done at EEPS.
  • Meet graduate students and faculty in EEPS.
  • Read and discuss with EEPS graduate students research articles, including some written by Rice students and faculty.
  • Tour labs at EEPS.
  • See demonstrations of computer simulations related to the environment, atmosphere and planetary interiors.
ESCI 114 – Discoveries in Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences


Helge Gonnermann (; Office KWG 219; ext. 6263). For office hours make an appointment or come by my office.

Class hours

Tu 1:00-1:50 PM

Class room

KWG 227

Grade policy

The course is graded as Satisfactory (S) / Unsatisfactory (U). A ‘satisfactory’ grade will require attendance as well as the preparation of a brief report at the end of the semester.

Absence policy

Presence and participation during all classes is expected. Excused absences require that the student contact Prof. Gonnermann in order to be excused.

Statement of expectations regarding course work and the Rice Honor Code

Throughout it is expected that students adhere to the Rice Honor Code

Students with disabilities

Any student with a disability that requires accommodation should contact both the course instructor during the first week of classes and also Disability Support Services in the Allen Center.

Course structure

The course will meet on Tuesdays between 1:00 and 1:50 pm and will be subdivided into modules, each typically spanning one or two weeks. During a given module students will meet and interact with graduate students, postdocs and faculty from a specific research group at EEPS. Each module will be assigned to best represent the motivating problems and ensuing research done by the given research group. Any reading assignments will be provided during the prior week and the assigned reading will be discussed in class the following week. The following modules will be covered during the Fall 2019 semester.

  • 27 AUG


    Professor Helge Gonnermann

  • 3 SEPT

    Searching for magma chambers in the Pacific Northwest

    PhD candidate John Cornthwaite

    Learn about the seismic search by Prof. Alan Levander’s group for magma chambers beneath America’s most notorious volcano, Mount St. Helens.

    Eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington


    3 SEPT

  • 10 SEPT


    Breaking rocks during earthquakes

    PhD candidate Ben Belzer & Professor Melodie French

    Learn how rocks break to cause earthquakes.  See a demonstration of how earthquakes are generated in Prof. Melodie French’s lab.

    San Andreas Fault

  • 17-24 SEPT

    Erupting Volcanoes: Floating pumice to black obsidian

    PhD candidate Sahand Hajimirza & postdoc Thomas Jones

    Learn how tiny bubbles drive volcanic eruptions.  See a laboratory demonstration of how hot magma flows and viscosity is measured in Prof. Helge Gonnermann’s lab.

    Lava Lake at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii


    17-24 SEPT

  • 1-8 OCT


    Water and sediment on Mars

    PhD candidate Michael Thorpe

    Learn about the Mars Rover Mission and the processes that have shaped the surface of Mars.  Participate in a demonstration how Prof. Kirsten Siebach’s students explore Mars using the 3D Visualization Lab at the EEPS department.

    Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity Rover

  • 22-29 OCT

    Simulating Earth’s climate

    PhD candidate Jun Hu and Professor Sylvia Dee

    Learn how Prof. Sylvia Dee’s students use sophisticated computer models to learn about the Earth’s climate.

    2018 Hurricane Season


    22-29 OCT

  • 5 NOV


    Antarctic ice at Rice

    PhD candidates Asmita Banerjee and Boda Li

    Learn how Prof. Yeung’s students use ice cores to reconstruct Earth’s climate.  Take a tour of Prof. Yeung’s ice and isotope labs.

    Thwaites glacier ice shelf, Amundsen Sea, Antarctica

  • 12 NOV

    When north wasn’t north and why it matters

    PhD candidate Kevin Gaastra

    Learn how Prof. Richard Gordon’s group uses the shape of magnetic striping on the seafloor to explore how Earth’s orientation has changed relative to its spin axis, and how that has affected Earth’s tectonics and climate.

    Hot spots track polar wander


    12 NOV

  • 19-26 NOV


    Why the ground beneath our feet is always moving and why it matters for life on our planet

    PhD candidate Alana Semple

    Learn how Prof. Adrian Lenardic’s group uses high performance computing to understand how the Earth’s interior moves continents and thereby affects climate and life.

  • 3 DEC

    What cooking at extreme heat and pressure tells us about making a habitable planet?

    PhD candidate Damanveer S. Grewal

    Learn how Prof. Rajdeep Dasgupta’s group uses laboratory experiments to unravel inner workings of Earth and planets and learns about processes that lead to long-term habitability of rocky planets.


    3 DEC