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Habitability in the Universe (IL907)


This module will draw together concepts of habitability from across the university, exploring both the realities of habitability and our own reactions to it.

We will look at habitable conditions both on- and off-Earth, discuss the possibilities for habitable environments in our own Solar system, and study how we find and understand habitable planets in the wider galaxy using modern telescopes. We will also investigate life at the extremes, considering extremophiles on Earth and what they might tell us about habitable conditions elsewhere, as well as examining the sustainability and long-term habitability of our own planet. We will look at how these concepts are woven throughout popular culture, assessing the representations of habitability and ‘the other’ in literature and film. Finally, we will try to place a historical context on “the new Space Age” with its growing stream of talk about other planets, colonisation, and off-world activity.



Sessions will consist of a mix of lectures, seminars, guided discussions, and/or group activities, as appropriate for the topic and content of the session. During each session we will introduce new concepts from different academic perspectives, with each session being led by an academic from an appropriate department. We will cover the main concepts of habitability and how we understand it, before expanding progressively to cover more detailed ideas of habitability in both the sciences and the arts. Through this module, you will be able to connect knowledge from multiple, diverse research fields and form a new conception of your subject specialism from the perspective of other disciplines and standpoints.

Illustrative Syllabus (exact sessions and lecturers may change)

Week 1 - Introduction and Defining Life – David Armstrong (Physics)

Week 2 - Redefining Habitability: Life at the Extremes - Jose Gutierrez-Marcos (Life Sciences)

Week 3 - Habitability in the Solar System – David Brown (Physics)

Week 4 - The Discovery of Deep Space - Michael Bycroft (History)

Week 5 - How the World Works - Jess Savage (GSD)

Week 6 - The (Un)Inhabitable Worlds of Science Fiction - Nora Castle (English)

Week 7 - Habitability in Film: The Martian – Catherine Constable (Film and Television Studies)

Week 8 - Humans, Chickens and Tardigrades - Multicellular life at the extremes - Kevin Moffat (Life Sciences)

Week 9 - Neocatastrophism - Elizabeth Stanway (Physics)

Week 10 - Exoplanets and environments off-Earth - Heather Cegla (Physics)

Student Perspective

Emily took the Habitability in the Universe in 2021. HereLink opens in a new window she speaks about her experience.

Module convenor

Portrait of Dr David Brown
Dr David Brown (he/him/his)
(d dot j dot a dot brown at warwick dot ac dot uk)


Term 2 (Spring) 2023-24
Fridays 12.00 pm - 2.00 pm

Timetabling for 2024-25 TBC


OC1.08 (Oculus)


For 10 CATS:
1500 word Essay/Report/Literature Review (60%)
15 minute group presentation
+ 15 minute group viva (40%)

For 15 CATS:
2500 word Essay/Report/Literature Review (60%)
15 minute group presentation
+ 15 minute group viva (40%)