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Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee

Information for this profile was provided by Gregory Baker in 2007. Information is also available on the departmental website.

Jump down to Overview and Context * Connecting to the Future of Science * Goals and Assessment * Courses and Sequencing

Overview and Context

University of Tennessee's Earth and Planetary Sciences curriculum. Diagram constructed by Carol Ormand from information provided by Gregory Baker. Click on the image to see a larger version.

In 2003, the department of Geological Sciences at the University of Tennessee received approval to change its name to Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS). The proposed name change was a key element in initiating the strategic plan, which seeks to enhance the integration of planetary sciences as one of our core competencies. The name change defines and differentiates our program as unique to the state and southeastern region and places it in a small national cohort of programs emphasizing planetary sciences.

This is our only geoscience program, designed to give students a broad but thorough background in the Earth and planetary sciences in preparation for employment in government/industry or continuation into graduate school.

Connecting to the Future of Science

Geology has always been a broadly drawn field, incorporating fundamentals across the physical, chemical, and biological sciences to study the natural environment, from the nano- to the giga- scale and through the whole of geological time. Over the past few decades, the field has outgrown its traditional hard-rock/soft-rock divisions and become more interdisciplinary and our research tools have been much more broadly applied. This became especially apparent to us as we prepared for our external program review in Spring, 2002. (The program review considers all aspects of our Department and its performance). Despite many of the same faces plus a few new ones, we saw different group and research synergies.

Among the geoscience themes of the next 25 years, we believe planetary geology (in all of its aspects) will be a significant component. There are important funding opportunities in Planetary Geology, especially through NASA and the planetary exploration budget (in 2002) was 40% larger than the entire National Science Foundation, in which Earth Sciences occupies only a modest niche.

Beyond planetary studies, funding opportunities in Earth Sciences are increasingly focused in interdisciplinary and "nontraditional" sources, with funding opportunities including the Departments of Energy or Transportation (federal and state), EPA, and/or private foundations. As a Research I University, we must pursue these opportunities to provide the resources and the opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students.

Goals and Assessment


The proposed name change was much more than a cosmetic modification. It was an integral part of a strategic plan to reconfigure our Department as per the "connecting with the future" objectives outlined previously.
  1. Enhance our national reputation and create a program unique to the state and southeastern region and, with rare exception, nationally. It will instantly differentiate the geoscience program at UT from all others statewide and in the southeastern region. There are only a handful of Earth and Planetary Science programs in the U.S., most associated with top-flight universities, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UC-Berkeley, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of New Mexico. Programs at CalTech, MIT and UCLA, have a similar, but slightly broader, focus. Thus, the name change helps to define and differentiate our program to high-quality students, potential research collaborators, and the appropriate funding agencies.
  2. Recruit outstanding students. Planetary science, particularly with the reinvigorated national commitment to planetary spacecraft missions, captures the imagination of many people. The revised major and more visible recognition of planetary science will have a broader appeal and will help us attract high quality undergraduate and graduate students. The general education program will benefit from general science courses on planetary geology.
  3. Expand public outreach and integration with the community. The proposed changes place the Department and University in excellent position to materially participate in the publicly-funded Universe Knoxville. In particular, we would be better-positioned to develop externally-funded educational outreach programs supported by NASA.
  4. Increase research and creative activity. The changes will broaden the range of external funding for which we are competitive, particularly research opportunities related to planetary spacecraft missions. We presently have five faculty (three tenure-track and two research faculty) members funded by NASA for spacecraft missions, lunar studies, and exobiology.


Our goals will be assessed individually:

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

To progress into the major, students must take 2 of Geology 101-102-103 (our intro sequence courses, the equivalent of Physical Geology, Historical Geology, and Environmental Geology, respectively, but with "updated" names), as well as Chemistry 120-130 (introductory chemistry w/lab).

Core courses


A minimum of 9 elective hours at the 400-level or above (usually 3 courses), selected from


Geological Field Training (Field Camp). A minimum of 5 hours of an approved field camp is required.

We encourage students to participate in undergraduate research (Geology 493). A maximum of 3 hours of Geology 493 may count towards the major.

Other required courses

Co-requisite requirements include Math 141-142 (calculus), and 3 courses from Biology 130-140 (intro biology) and Physics 135-136 (calculus-based physics).

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