The Evolution of SESE - From Becoming to Being


Combining Astronomy and Geology

The School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) developed from two strong traditions at Arizona State University: the geological sciences and the area of science focusing on astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. Traditionally, research and educational activities in the earth sciences and planetary science at ASU were the focus in the geology department, while those activities in observational astronomy, cosmology, and computational astrophysics were focused on in the physics and astronomy department.

In the early years of the 21st Century, faculty in these programs proposed a new experiment in earth and space sciences: a unique academic environment in which scientific discovery motivates the exploration of today, technological innovation enables the discoveries of tomorrow, and transdisciplinary learning prepares future generations of explorers. This vision involved the creation of a new school that would employ many new faculty in both science and engineering and included earth and space science faculty from the old Department of Geological Sciences and the astronomers, astrophysicists, and cosmologists from the department of physics and astronomy. After the merger, the former department of physics and astronomy became the department of physics.

Newly appointed ASU President Michael Crow contributed to the design of the new school and provided extensive resources to support its establishment, embracing it as a presidential initiative. The Arizona Board of Regents approved academic degree programs for the new school in 2006. SESE became an academic unit of ASU in July 2006, with Kip Hodges as its founding director. At that time, the department of geological sciences ceased to exist, and the department of physics and astronomy became the department of physics.


SESE Today

Today, SESE is a vibrant community of 63 faculty, over 100 research scientists and postdoctoral scholars, 120 graduate students, and nearly 400 undergraduates supported by an administrative and operations staff of more than 20.

School operations are divided principally among four locations: Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), the Bateman Physical Sciences Complex, Interdisciplinary A (formerly Admin A), and the Moeur Building. Our undergraduate degrees provide the initial training for career paths in the earth and space sciences, systems engineering, environmental science and sustainability, and a variety of aerospace fields. The degrees we offer include: BS in Earth and Space Exploration with four concentrations -- Geological Sciences, Astrophysics, Astrobiology, and Systems Design, BA in Earth and Environmental Studies, Aerospace Engineering with Astronautics Concentration (in collaboration with the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering), and Earth and Space Education (in collaboration with the School of Education). Our BS in Geological Sciences (geology) is now offered as a concentration within the BS in Earth and Space Exploration degree (See the Geological Sciences concentration).

Annually we expose nearly 3,000 undergraduate students to the earth and space sciences through our introductory subjects. At the graduate level, we offer two master's degrees: one in geological sciences and the other in astrophysics, as well as Doctoral degrees in geological sciences and astrophysics. SESE faculty are committed to informal and pre-collegiate science education; our Mars Education Program, for example, is an internationally recognized vehicle for engaging middle school to high school students in the excitement of space exploration.

The SESE community is engaged in a broad research portfolio including observational, computational, experimental, and theoretical projects. Our total research volume (as measured in annual awards) is rising rapidly and crested the $15M mark in FY2007. Major funding sources include the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and various private companies and foundations. SESE researchers conduct field work on every continent on Earth; they send probes to the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Mercury; and they employ ground-based and orbiting telescopes to interrogate deep space. Our laboratory is infinite.


SESE Tomorrow

SESE is growing at a pace that is unprecedented in the recent history of academic earth and space science. Our faculty ranks are on pace to continue growing over the next few years, with special emphasis on fields such as systems engineering, climatology, hydrology, informal science education, and the dynamics of complex systems. A commensurate increase in our undergraduate major and graduate student population is anticipated.

This growth is accommodated, in part, by the new research building, Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), which opened for occupancy in spring 2012. ISTB 4 is located on the corner of McAllister and Terrace.