Online course designed for high school students

Origins: How the Universe, the Solar System, and Life Began

Do the wonders of the universe follow a pattern? Does the way stars are born share something with the way life evolves?This general survey course gets to the heart of the matter. Whether you want to major in a STEM subject, pre-med or seek a future in law or journalism, a good background in science is key. Take the ultimate tour of the Cosmic Zoo: from the Big Bang, to emergence of life on earth, from solar system to ecosystem. Along the way you’ll meet dinosaurs, nanoscience, mutant viruses and exoplanets and explore the depths of human consciousness. Enjoy engaging videos from two renowned scientists and instructors: Dr. Patricia Princehouse and Dr. Glenn Starkman and engage in live sessions with university mentors.

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Program Dates

Multiple two- and four-week sessions


For students ages 13+



From the Macrocosm to the Microcosm

Introduction to the Cosmos — The Big Picture

From the big bang to today. How big is the universe? What is it made of? What is Dark Matter? What is the Cosmic Zoo?

Stars, Planets and Black Holes

White dwarfs. Neutron stars. Black holes. Study exotic remnants left behind when stars and planets run out of fuel. Are there other planets suitable for life? How did the earth form and life arise in this symphony of forces?

Tour of the Solar System

From the sun to the asteroid belt to the planets on the outer reaches, travel our cosmic neighborhood, coming to rest on the pale blue dot we call home.

The Origin of Life

How did life arise? What was the biology of the first life forms? What are the parallels between earth and our solar system with other planets and star systems? How has life on earth influenced the way we search for life on distant planets?

Dinosaurs, Evolution and Extinction

Witness the rise and fall of prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs, trilobites, and flying reptiles. Experience the drama of evolution from the triumph of species to their mass extinction.

Origins of Humans

Meet your ancestors. Get acquainted with the early humans from whom you arose.  Learn how our species evolved and what makes us unique.

Prepare for a Future in Science

Topics covered in this course offer a good background for potential University study in physics, astronomy, biology and evolution and science writing.

Show How You've Mastered the Universe

Your final project invites you to be a designer of the biggest game of all — the universe itself. You’ll create a board game  or a presentation that follows the timeline of cosmic history, from the Big Bang to the origins of civilization.

How You Will Benefit

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  • Get deep insight into the way scientists think and learn to apply their principles in your own schoolwork.
  • Acquire the background you need to research future majors in STEM, the individual sciences, medicine, psychology — and any profession that requires innovative thinking such as law and entrepreneurship.
  • Develop a basic understanding of the origins and evolution of the universe.
  • Learn asynchronously: Lessons by your professor are delivered as videos so that you can tune in whenever your schedule allows — the ultimate in flexibility
  • Earn a Certificate of Completion from Case Western Reserve University.

Apply Now for the Next Available Course

All course options, whether 2 or 4 weeks, have the identical educational content, learning materials, and number of assignments. The difference in length of course is due to time of year (not amount of instruction). We know the school year keeps you busy, so we’ve made the course longer during that time so that you can get assignments done.

3 Learning Advantages Designed for You

Final Project

The course culminates with a special project that allows you to pull from the materials you’ve been using to design a game, a poster or presentation. Choose your preferred medium and have fun!


You’ll receive guidance from a Case Western Reserve University mentor who can support you and answer questions as you deepen your learning experience. You can expect:

  • Encouragement and direction on all assignments
  • Inspiration, motivation and confidence to help you succeed
  • Brainstorming and ideation help as you prepare for your final project

Flexible Learning

  • 100% online, works with your schedule
  • 20-25 hours of total instruction and course work, including engaging multimedia, simulations, and curated assignments for which you will receive guidance and support
  • Asynchronous: you’ll learn through engaging video. Tune in anytime that works for you.
  • Regular live group online sessions with a Case Western Reserve University mentor
  • Meet fellow students from around the world

Course designed by Case Western Reserve University Professors

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Dr. Patricia Princehouse

Director, Program in Evolutionary Biology

Princehouse earned her MA from Yale and a PhD from Harvard University. Concentrating her scientific work on primate evolution, she has completed museum and fieldwork in North America, Europe and Africa. Recently, she has turned to the digital organisms of “artificial life” programs as a way of testing elements of evolutionary theory. Her work has won wide recognition including Ohio Magazine’s Educational Excellence award.

Decorative: Headshot of Dr. Glenn Starkman

Dr. Glenn Starkman

Distinguished University Professor and Co-Chair, Dept. of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, Director of the Institute for the Science of Origins and of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics

Starkman's an alumnus of the University of Toronto with a PhD from Stanford University. His research career took him to the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics before bringing him to Case Western Reserve. In 2003 Starkman was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. He was among the founding board members of the Reinvention Center, a national center focusing on undergraduate education at research universities.

Course Mentors

Decorative: Headshot of Katherine, a mentor for the Origins course


Case Western Reserve University graduate with a major in Evolutionary Biology and Origin Sciences. Currently pursuing an MS in Anatomy and Vertebrate Paleontology at Oklahoma State University.

Decorative: Headshot of Luke, a mentor for the Origins course


Case Western Reserve University graduate of the Origins Science program and the Astronomy program.

Decorative: Headshot of Troy, a mentor for the Origins course


Case Western Reserve University undergraduate with a major in Origins Sciences and Evolutionary Biology.

Decorative: Headshot of Jeb, a mentor for the Origins course


Case Western Reserve University undergraduate majoring in physical anthropology and evolutionary biology with a focus on dinosaur paleontology. Previously volunteered as a fossil preparator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and completed paleontological fieldwork in Wyoming, Mongolia, and Montana. Currently working on research involving the small carnivorous dinosaur Coelophysis bauri.

How to Apply

It’s easy. No transcripts or letters of recommendation are required. Our application will ask you to provide the following:

  • Basic contact information for you and your parents or guardian.
  • Why you wish to take this course. You can tell your story through writing, video, photos — any media you prefer.

Note: Please submit all application materials in English.

Begin the guided process. It should take only a few minutes of your time to answer the questions.

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Female student working at her computer.

Want to Know More?

Sign up for more information and we’ll be in touch.


Our application process is easy. You can expect a prompt decision.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How will you be graded? What are assignments like? How much time do you get to turn around a project? When do you find out if you're accepted?

Find answers to your questions


We offer need-based pre-college program scholarships in each cohort to students who need assistance with the program cost. The scholarship application is a part of the overall program application. 

If you would like to be considered for a scholarship but you: