Burrows, the program’s director, said that students will explore cutting-edge research areas ranging from genetics to the search for planets beyond the solar system. Twenty years ago, these might not have been credible areas of study, he said, “but these days, we actually have the scientific wherewithal to address a lot of these questions and to reasonably predict that in the next few decades, we’re going to completely transform our understanding of our place in the universe.”

Similar programs have been launched at universities abroad and elsewhere in the United States, driven in part by NASA’s ongoing planetary exploration initiatives. The Princeton curriculum has included a popular course on “Life in the Universe,” taught by collaborators from geosciences, astrophysical sciences, and ecology and evolutionary biology — most recently Tullis Onstott *81, Edwin Turner, and Laura Landweber ’89.