Silica: from stardust to the living world

Silica School

Silicon. Why should we be interested in this element? Silicon is particularly abundant in the form of silica and silicate minerals on planet Earth and on the telluric planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, etc.). But this begs the questions, if silicon is so abundant, why are living organisms based on carbon and not on silicon? Is there a chance of encountering silicon-based life somewhere in the universe? If, on planet Earth, living organisms are carbon-based, do they also contain silicon? Are silicified organisms important for marine life and for the carbon cycle in the ocean? How has this changed over time?

The Silica School, organised by Dr. Jill Sutton and Professor Paul Tréguer (European Institute for Marine Studies, University of Brest) , answers these and many other questions on the topic of silica (silicon dioxide). The Silica School opened on the 26th of October, 2020 with the support from ISblue.

The “Silica School” currently brings together over 30 marine research institutes and universities from 12 different countries and continues to develop. It is a SPOC (Small Private Online Course), with students from France, China, the United Kingdom, North America, Australia…50 currently enrolled for this first edition of the online course.

The main objective of the Silica School, titled “Silica: from stardust to the living world”, is to highlight the current level of knowledge on silica research by offering an interdisciplinary course to students from universities and institutes that are members of the Silica School Consortium. Ten lectures (and supplementary course materials) are provided with the module themes: silica in the universe, silica in the ocean, silica in the living world, and silica in the future.

The Silica School provides all students access to the online lectures, supplementary course materials, and contact with the instructors (international experts on silica in the fields of chemistry, biology, geology and physics) via question and answer forums, encouraging collegial interaction between students and instructors.

Listening to the first lecture, the whole idea and layout is a.m.a.z.i.n.g,
wrote a student from the University of Bristol.

Each class will be available online to allow students to acquire knowledge on each concept at their own pace. The total time to complete each course will vary depending on each student’s background and the topics covered (expected lecture time is 32 hours and up to 30 hours of personal work time).

Online classes will include specific directions for the students to perform tasks (discussion board, individual assignments) and/or quizzes to both help the student practice and to assess comprehension.

The successful construction of the Silica School SPOC was made possible thanks to an exceptional group effort provided by the affiliated teachers and e-learning specialists.

Diatom (microalgae)