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Bio 103 Week Three: Space, Time, Diversity

Paul Grobstein's picture

Glad you're here, to share explorations of life. If you're registered in Biology 103, remember to log in before posting here. Others are welcome to contribute without logging in. Such comments though will be checked to avoid spam postings and so be delayed in appearing.

In any case, remember that this isn't a place for polished writing or final words. Its a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had in class (or afterwords), things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your own mind that others might find useful and to find things from others (in our class and elsewhere) that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our conversations have affected that. Looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

You're free to write about anything that came into your mind this week. But if you need something to get you started, what did you think of our survey of scales of space and time relevant to living things? Of the diversity of living things?

Kaitlin Cough's picture

We’re starting to get into

We’re starting to get into a realm of science that fascinates and overwhelms me—astronomy, quantum physics, string theory, distance being measured in time—it’s all amazing and at the same time gives me a headache. It’s also amazing that the table I’m sitting at right now is in constant motion, as is the chair, etc. etc. and that all the while the world is spinning. And I can’t feel any of it. Phenomenal. But if absolutely everything around me is in motion, HOW can I feel nothing? I feel like I should feel some motion, if all the molecules etc are always moving. And how is the light from a dead star still powerful enough to travel millions of light years to reach us? And when we are looking at the light of a dead star and it…goes out, that is, the light stops reaching us, what happens? Is it gradual, or is it there one night and gone the next?

vcruz's picture

scales really matter

On our last class I found so interesting the fact that out of so many species and all kinds of living things that we keep separating and finding more and more distinctions we forget or ignore that the bases for ALL of them are the same! When we went down on scales the smaller the scales, the less diverse all living organisms were becoming, yet is so amazing how different we ALL are. I mean, if we're all made up of the same atoms(or about the same) how come there isn't ONE person just like me or any one else. Of course, we all know that it's in our genes and they are all different -- but they're also made of the same matter. I guess I just would like to learn about the moment (in or formation) when we start to become different from one another.
PS2007's picture

I really enjoyed our

I really enjoyed our discussion in class on Wednesday and I wish that we could spend more time discussing the universe. While some of my questions were answered (is the universe infinite, what exactly was the big bang) these answers just brought up many more questions. I guess I'm finding out that this is the way science is, and that some things we just don't know the answers to yet. I'm still really curious as to how scientists measured the rate of expansion of the universe, but I think that even if I was given the answer I probably wouldn't be able to understand it.
Rachel Tashjian's picture

This Post Is About Nothing.

I really liked talking about the things we did in class this past week. I've always had a lot of questions about the ideas of "spatial scales" (of course, I didn't call them that; it was more like, "mega huge stuff "and "tiny stuff"), and I finally had so many of them answered. So my parents and I were having dinner this weekend, and I was explaining to them what we were talking about in our Bio class - the universe expanding yet being finite, the different spatial scales, how elements come from stars exploding, etc. My mom found this all really exciting - she's a bit obsessed with biology-physics things - but my dad was a bit confused. He said, "So space and time caused the big bang?" I said that no one is really sure what caused the big bang, but that space and time were created in it; initially, there was a bunch of nothing. He couldn't understand how nothing could be "there." I tried to explain this by saying, "Well, Dad, the Hopi Indians had a concept for time that can't even be translated into English, so it's kind of like that." (Actually, though, I'm not really sure how the big bang is like that, but I thought it sounded kind of intellectual.) But then I started thinking about this idea that had my dad so confused, as well as this probably unrelated idea of the Hopi Indians' idea of time, and I became confused myself. I just don't understand this concept of complete, total nothingness.

Up until this point, I didn't feel uncomfortable at all with the idea of there being no one "truth," that we can't solve problems and answer questions with one magical idea. But now I've had my first real challenge in accepting that there's something we really don't know (and that I think it's OK not to understand "nothingness"). Hopefully, I'll encounter more of these challenges; having a whole group of them might make me really face the fact that the "truth" is that there isn't a truth.

LaKesha's picture


I can't believe that there is so much out there in space. Of course in school I learned about different galaxies and you hear about them in movies, but I never really thought further about them. The biggest shocker for me is that there is actually a limit. It all ENDS...what? I'm excited about learning more about the Universe and it having an end.

It was also very exciting to learn about the spacial scales and seeing how everytime you switched to a smaller and smaller scale. we saw that everything was made up from the same matter. I am really looking forward to learning more about what is in space. I want to go beyond Earth and find out what else is out there!!

Ashley's picture

Organism at a smaller scale

Class on Friday was very interesting and made me think long and hard about the differences between living and non-living organisms. When we looked at organisms at a smaller scale in our labs, my group came up with the idea that at a smaller scale, organisms look more alike and that there is less variation but then in class the professor brought up another idea that when looking at an organism at a smaller scale, we will find more organisms within the larger organism. This is also true, but with the magnifying glass that we used, we were not able to see the microscopic organisms that were actually there. I guess it’s safe to say that all organisms are made of other organisms that are made of something else. If this is true for both living and non-living things then they may not be as different as we thought they were.

Catrina Mueller's picture


I became intrigued we started to increase the spacial scale to bigger and bigger sizes. Before this week, I had never really thought of Biology as consisting of anything bigger than a whale or a tree. I had never really thought of how the cosmos related to and affected the Earth. To put it more plainly, I had never really thought of Astronomy and Biology as being connected. Astronomy to me was just a bunch of stars and galaxies far, far away that didn't really have that much to do with us on Earth. Biology was the study of a bunch of animals and plants and the like.

It is very hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that the universe has an end. I know it would be impossible for it to go on and on forever (although it seems like it does anyway since it is so big), but I keep thinking "Okay... What's the next thing bigger than universe?" I find it quite hard to imagine that after the universe ends there is nothing. And not just empty space nothing. What would happen if you reached the end of the universe? Is the universe square and you would fall off the edge? (Probably not... But if the Earth was thought to be a cube, then why can't the universe be?)

Kee Hyun Kim's picture


Although I am no expert in physicsm I just could but grapple with the fact that

Although I am no expert in physics I just could but grapple with the fact that space was made from nothing and is continuing to expand. Ever since middle school physics class, I was taught about Louis de Broglie and his law of conservation of mass. As the law states, although the shape of the substance may change, shouldnt the mass be constant? ( Again.. I am not a expert in physics and I could be totally incorrect in referencing Broglie and if I am please forgive me )


I simply cannot grasp how space was created from nothing and can continue to expand as we speak. I hope further research both in and out of class will clarify this situation for me.



Sharhea's picture

This week

This week was kinda interesting because I never thought of the world on different scales. As a human being, I tend to think of things as in reference to myself or the people around me. Thinking in such a way made me think that the scales were actually unreal. How could earth have the only living thing among so many galaxies. Moving on to a lower scale seems a little more realistic, since we were always taught that we are buidling blocks of protons, neutrons and electrons. This is what I assumed science was based on.
ekoike's picture

Before beginning this

Before beginning this class, I never really quite thought about or questioned what the ideas of "space" and "time" meant in relation to the universe (which was a much more complex and intricate concept than I thought before) and this week made me further question what was the end points of the universe.

I always accepted the idea that the universe is comprised of stars and various matter orbiting in space and that there is no quite definite beginning or end. The universe always seemed to be just a blurry concept to me and I never questioned what the exact length of it is.

I'm the type of person who needs an exact number in order to fully visualize what that length looks like, but the fact that the universe is a certain billion light years in diameter just startled and confused me. It just made me think: What is out there if the universe has a specific beginning and end? Just space?

andrelle's picture

Before this week, I never

Before this week, I never really understood what it really meant when people said that the earth is a part of the milky way galaxy and that there are other galaxies in the universe.  I didn't realize how big the universe is.  I also thought that it was cool that when things are looked at through different spatial scales, we realize that there is not much difference between anything, and that it is all about the way these small particles are arranged.  It made everything in the world seem more beautiful, even a rock.

 Now the world seems more exciting because of the fact that it is continually expanding, and so we never realy know what can pop up next.  Things are so far away that we fail to realize that there is a lot going on out there and at any moment, those things can have major effects on us.

cmcgowan's picture

The topic this week blew my

The topic this week blew my mind. I remember leaving class each day and just not knowing what to think simply because there is so much to think about.  Earlier in the week when we covered the larger scale I was amazed at how many things there are that I had never thought about. I didn't think that I would be as amazed later in the week when we went over the smaller scale, but I was. I was surprised at how many similarities there are between the scales...I don't know if this is extremely relevant but I thought it was interesting that there is a point in each scale where they cease to be considered as improbable assemblies and at these points they look very similar. That they look similar at this point is becomes obvious once you think about the physical characteristics of improbable assemblies but who has ever done that outside of class? Another similarity I think is interesting is that there is a point on each scale where life can no longer exist in one organism. It is interesting to think about why this is, both in terms of an individual organisms ability to maintain itself, and in relation to the rest of the world. If life did exist at these scales, what would that mean for the rest of us and the environment? 

Before we looked at the smaller scale, I understood diversity as pertaining to species rather than the the components or "building blocks" of life. I guess I have never thought to look beyond species, I just assumed that is where diversity stopped being relevant. It is weird because I have learned about molecules and atoms before but the approach was so different that I didn't really connect it to actual life.  I didn't really care to think about it beyond its relevance to homework and tests. I wish someone would have taught me like this when I was 7 so I didn't have the feeling that biology was uninteresting and something larger than myself.  
Kendra's picture

Spatial Scales

I thought it was fascinating how we moved up and down the spatial scales of a bee on a lily pad. But what really shocked was the size of space! I've learned in elementary/middle school that space goes on forever and ever and it was just really interesting to see pictures of space getting bigger and bigger. Its hard to believe that we are alone in such a huge area. 

I learned a lot about space this summer working at the Museum of Natural History where they had a space show about the Big Bang thoey and a whole exhibit on it. But like i said, I just didn't realize how huge the universe is! I also thought it was great learning that the distinction between being alive and not being alive is lower at a lower spatial scale. 
kgould's picture

oh gravity...

For some time in high school, I was convinced I was going to pursue a career in cosmology. The study of the cosmos. What could get more interesting than exploring the universe, space far beyond what humans have explored thus far, discovering new worlds... exploring the concept of dark energy and matter?

(But the intense mathematics that goes along with cosmology kind of scared me away from that subject. Ew math.)

I guess I just like asking questions and searching for answers (or observations) when it comes to the universe. It's crazy, isn't it? This world we live in is huge; the universe has a definate "end," but it's still expanding. AND it's expansion is accelerating. For no apparent reason. Other than some kind of "negative gravity." NEGATIVE GRAVITY. Doesn't that just boggle your mind? Which way is up anymore, anyway, if we're just kind of a speck floating in this great empty space?

So while I found the small scale interesting, (bacteria, viruses, atoms, quarks!), I think pushing farther into the universe and observing it's intricacies will help us to better understand "life" as a whole. Life seems so big here, around ourselves, on Earth. But the universe has a lot of empty space, a lot of room without anything in it. I want to fill in the blanks.

OrganizedKhaos's picture

On a smaller scale...

Investigating everything at a smaller scale during class was very intriguing. It began to get difficult for us to determine whether certain things were living organisms or not at one point. When we went down to the bacterium it was the last living organism that we could identify and I had always thought that viruses were living, which was found on the next scale down couldnt even be categorized as living. After that everything became even smaller to atoms then the nucleus then basically space and electrons. We basically found out that we are all made of space and eclectrons, and stardust. 

Although the smaller scale seems so overwhelming I believe that the concept of a smaller scale is still much easier and less mind boggling than observing everything at a much larger scale. 
kharmon's picture

I am satisfied with our

I am satisfied with our exploration of small scales. We kept going smaller and smaller until we got to the building blocks of life (with which we were already familiar) and the building blocks of these building blocks and so on and so forth. I wonder a little about what makes up the quarks and wut makes up that and so on and so on, however I have accepted the ambiguity of the question and will wait for new observations to be made that offer possible solutions to this problem on the smaller scale.

The larger scale on the other hand is completely mind boggling. The only thing harder to imagine than an infinite universe is a limited universe. But either way the size of the universe as we know it is still startling. I dont necessarily believe in "aliens" but upon seeing with my own eyes the scale of space, I feel ignorant for ever believing that Earth could have some sort of monopoly on life. There are hundreds of thousands of other places in "space" that may or may not have life, and it is quite possible that we may never find them all.

Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

When I was in elementary

When I was in elementary school, it always really bothered me when a teacher said the universe was infinite. I always wondered, "But how can it keep going FOREVER in EVERY direction?" I guess I adjusted to the idea though, because I found it bothered me way more to think that there was a limit to the universe. If the universe really is a finite size, you have to wonder what's beyond it. What is the universe expanding into? And where do you draw the line of where the universe ends? I mean really, it's hard enough to imagine space with a total absence of matter, but it's even harder to understand that places exist (if you can call it that) where there's an absense of even space.

However, I did like the symmetry that we see when we start at a human scale and get larger or bigger. It's a comfortable idea, that getting bigger there's a gap in seeing improbable assemblies that also exists getting smaller.

Jen's picture

Everytime I see the stars, I

Everytime I see the stars, I get incredibly frustrated because we can't just leave planet Earth and explore them. They're so far away.

I have never been uncomfortable with the idea of the universe having a limit, because it seems like all physical things must have limits. (Based on our definition of life it seems like a universe could almost be a living thing.)

This strays from the topic at hand, but I have always wondered what was beyond the universe. Is our universe one bubble in a space of other bubbles (universes)? Has our universe been expanding and contracting for all time? Did God put our universe into being? Is there any stock to be held in string theory? 
ekim's picture

more on spatial scale.

on the smaller scale, diversity decreases because every living thing is made up of atoms, but just with different arrangements of them.

and on the bigger scale, diversity increases because of what comes out of the different arrangement of the atoms that all living things are made up of.

but really, didn't the universe just look really empty and black and dusty at a bigger scale? doesn't that make it pretty poor in diversity?

so in the end, nothing is really different from each other, no? everything really is 'dust to dust' and 'ashes to ashes'.

Shanika's picture



It was mentioned in class that "biology" is complicated to teach because it is always changing/evolving. I believe that since everything changes due to others observations, we can not define many things.

I agree with Luisana when she said "It's hard to accept the universe having a limit." How can we be sure of this?

I am very skeptical about the spacial scale because i feel like this scale can change. With new technology enhancing, anything is possibel but change is guaranteed!

Shanika Bridges-King
LuisanaT's picture

Similiar to eHarenett's post on space....

It's hard to accept the universe having a limit. I want to say that everything in the world has limits, but there are so many possible things to find outside of our Earth that the universe must be endless. This must be because life, as we have been examining it, has been with a seen through such a small lens. It is not until now that we can see our planet, let alone other planets in this universe. Redeifing what we observe is due in part by the spacial scale we have available and therefore use.

One definition for the word universe is " The totality of matter, energy, and space, including the Solar System, the galaxies, and the contents of the space between the galaxies." If we accept this as valid it "quantifies" the amount of matter, space, contents, etc, to a certain extent. The great thing about science is that it is always subject to change because life as we know it is limitless. So to say that even the universe has its limit is a big let down. Hopefully, with all of the different arrangements of im/probable assemblies in combination with the progression of science, technology, and human thought exploration will remain a neverending process.

eharnett's picture


Of course I've always known that the universe was big, however after we discussed it in class this week I realized how big it was, and it was very overwhelming.

However I also thought it was strange when we talked about how the Universe has a diameter of 10-15 billion light years.  I always thought that the universe was never ending...but this came as a bit of a shock to me.  How could the universe have a limit?  I always depended on it being never ending-that’s what the Universe means to me whenever I think about it.  So to think of the Universe as having a limit is sort of contradictory to what I know.


Samar Aryani's picture

The conversations on

The conversations on Wednesday about the 'Big Bang' theory raised a great deal of questions within me.  I had always known about the theory but never actually took the time to analyze for myself.  As we were talking in class, a flood of questions overwhelmed me.  Questions such as, how is it possible for nothing to exist before the explosion took place? If it is true that nothing existed before the 'Big Bang,' how is one to conclude that summary of observations when no evidence exists to fully support the idea? Also, wouldn't the existence of nothing actually be the existence of something? How does space, which according to scientists was considered nothing, explode into a great many things?  Also, how does space just explode? These questions are mind-boggling but at the same time very interesting because it made me examine a summary of observations (a good summary of observations) that I had not fully considered before. 

Kee Hyun Kim's picture

speaking of scales of space...

To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of space… if the nearest stars outside the solar system are over a thousand light years away, what will be the chances that we will ever interact with life outside earth?


Even if one assumes that life outside earth is advanced enough to be able to accept signals (such as through the SETI program) is it even worth the effort to pursue such program at this stage of technology? (Wouldn’t it be more effective to concentrate our efforts in improving the speed of communication and transportation?)


I am not saying that studying space is not important in understanding the earth and its immediate surroundings. It is important to learn and study about space since it will have a both direct and indirect impact on Earth and us. I am just skeptical of why we should conduct programs such as SETI at this point given our level of technological development.


ekim's picture

on scales of space.

in class on monday, we started at a small scale of 10 to the 1st power, then moved on to 10 to the 17th (maybe it was 19th?) power, leading us to an image clusters of galaxies. and each time we upped the scale, the images were significant and relevant to life (as we know it).

everything was a part of a part of some other part.

so would that make (almost) everything as a whole an improbable assembly? and if (almost) everything as a whole were to be an improbable assembly, i guess there is no sharp boundary between living things and non-living things...