Sustainicum Collection

Consus The aim of the project is to establish a regional science-society network for sustainability innovations in Albania and Kosovo in order to strengthen the connection and collaboration of institutions in the field of higher education, research and practice.

Resource facts

  • Less than 5 students
    5 to 10 students
  • Up to 3 lecture units
  • English, German

Resource Description

Instruction file

Additional attachments

Exponential Growth(Resource ID: 4)

On the basis of a thought experiment about the growth rate of the world's population and its extrapolation into the future ("When will mankind have populated the entire universe?"), students shall deal with the characteristics of exponential growth and learn to perform – and understand – their own calculations.

This mini-project shall help students to understand that exponentially growing quantities will grow beyond any practical limit, even if the rate of growth does not look particularly alarming. This is demonstrated using the current rate of growth of the earth’s population. After introducing the notion of doubling time and a reflection about the properties of exponential growth, the question "When will mankind have populated the entire universe?" is posed, whereby it is understood that its growth rate remains constant. The surprising answer shall stimulate students to think about properties of dynamical systems of this type, as well as about the evolution of real systems that show exponential (or approximately exponential) growth. The computations necessary shall be performed by the students themselves.

The material provided consists of a lesson plan, 7 worksheets for students and a summary of the solutions the students should achieve.

The mini-project is appropriate for a little more than one hour of work in small groups (preferably teams of 3 students). The worksheets shall be handed out to the groups one after another.

Prerequisites are either some familiarity with the notion of logarithm (and the ability to solve an equation of the form \[a^x=b\] with respect to \[x\]) or the use of a scientific calculator allowing to compute arbitrary powers a^b.

The worksheets are designed so that students can record their results on them. If they are re-collected in the end, the teachers get an idea of which pieces of content were understood how well.

The file contains

  • a lesson plan
  • 7 worksheets for students
  • and the solutions of the problems as the students should achieve them.

As background information on exponential functions and the logarithm, a web page such as can be recommended to the students.

Learning Outcomes
The students shall understand in which sense and on account of which mathematical properties exponential growth transcends all practical limits, and they shall – in simple cases – be able to perform their own computations.
Relevance for Sustainability
Aspects of exponential growth are part of many models of system dynamics and thus of crucial importance for estimating future developments and threats.
Related Teaching Resources
No specific previous knowledge / related resources required
Preparation Efforts
Sources and Links
Funded by
Funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research within the framework of the call "Projekt MINT-Massenfächer" (2011/12)

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Franz Embacher


Franz Embacher
This teaching resource is allocated to following University:
BOKU - University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna
Center for Global Change and Sustainability (BOKU Vienna)


Creative Commons

Teaching Tools & Methods

  • Mini-project
  • Written material