The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Last Lectures at SMU: Alien Life and the Probability of Life

When I delivered Parts 1 and 2 of the last lecture of Physics 1303 (Introduction to Mechanics) on May 2 and 3, 2022, I had an inkling that these might be my last ever lectures to SMU undergraduates. I prepared them with joy and love and care. It was emotionally wrenching for me to deliver these, knowing that when the last words were spoken there would be no more words … no “next lecture” at SMU.

I hid my sadness from my students and powered through two of the favorite lectures I have ever prepared for introductory physics students. I allow students to suggest topics for the last “special topics lecture(s)” of my introductory physics courses. They then rank-vote the topics and one floats to the top. In Spring 2022, it as “Alien Life and the Probability of Life.”

I invite you to look at these topics through the eyes of a physicist, from the big bang to the formation of the light elements, the first stars and galaxies, the creation of the heavy elements, and the formation of rocky planets … as least one of which, one day, would give birth to life as we understand it. What about life we don’t understand? Watch these lectures and get some hints as to the difficultly, complexity, and seeming inevitability of life.

Part 1: Life as We Know It
Part 2: Life as We Don’t Know It