Students begin by getting a foundation in physical sciences. They study plate tectonic theory and the major rock types. Studies of the geology of the solar system include the origin of meteorites, asteroids, comets, and the planets. Students also study why and how the Earth evolved along a path different than the other planets. Impacts by asteroid and comets, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and associated tsunami, and changes in atmospheric oxygen are also studied.
The genesis of meteorite and planetary materials is also investigated, where the origins are deduced from textural evidence obtained from microscopic studies. These deductions are used to develop hypotheses concerning genesis and evolution of Earth, other planets and the solar system. The birth, life, and death of elements are also studied. Students study the formation of the elements in the sun and other solar bodies, and learn about the production of stable and unstable isotopes, with emphasis on their rate of decay.
Field mapping techniques and remote sensing is an important part of the planetary science curriculum. Students learn to create geological map and the basic concepts of geodetic surveying, including the various datum and coordinate systems, uncertainty estimation, and error propagation.
Biological studies include the geomicrobiological processes recorded in the Earth and bacteria interactions in contemporary systems, including methods for the analysis of prokaryotes. Laboratory studies include the development of bacteriological culture techniques used in geomicrobiological research.
Students also learn the fundamentals of astronomy and astrophysics. They study the formation, equilibrium, and evolution of structure on all astronomical scales. Observational projects involve work with telescopes and CCD detectors.