Additional Courses in the Sciences
Courses listed under this heading are introductory courses in branches of science that do not fit into the six divisional programs (biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, and physics), or that approach the study of science from historical or philosophical points of view.
Paints and the Examination of Paintings
Students investigate the composition of pigments, dyes, and paints; the chemistry underlying selected techniques (e.g., Attic vase and fresco painting); and scientific methods for examining paintings. As light, atoms, and molecules are central to paints and techniques for examining paintings, the course begins with these foundational topics. Laboratory work includes synthesis and analysis of pigments and dyes, and preparation of binders and paints.
Topics covered range from the chemistry of silver and nonsilver photographic processes to the physics of CCD cameras. Laboratory work emphasizes the chemical transformations involved in making gum dichromate prints, cyanotypes, blueprints, salted paper prints, and black-and-white silver emulsion prints.
Learning about Learning: A Quantitative Study of the Evolution of the Self
What is learning? How can we learn more quickly? What happens in our brains when we learn? This course tackles an experimental investigation of what influences the depth and quality of learning. Readings include books such as Timothy Ferriss’s Four-Hour Chef and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, but the major focus of the course is on student-generated, quantitative experiments designed to test ideas about learning.
Nuclear and Chemical Weapons
This course introduces the terminology associated with nuclear and chemical weapons. The class first becomes familiar with the atomic nucleus and types of nuclear reactions, and then focuses on uranium—from mining to enrichment to its uses in nuclear reactors and fission bombs—and on reprocessing spent reactor fuel to concentrate plutonium, which is also used in fission bombs. For chemical weapons, the discussion begins with the structures of the small molecules that make up these weapons, and includes their classification, design, and destruction.
No space probe has traveled to any star besides the sun, and yet we have constructed a detailed picture of the composition and life cycle of stars based on the light and particles they emit. Analysis of starlight tells us about the composition, temperature, and size of stars, while analysis of the particles offers clues about the nuclear processes that occur on them. Foundational topics addressed include the nature of light, structure of atoms, and nuclear reactions. Students must be comfortable with scientific notation and using algebra to solve problems.
Thinking about Thinking: Models of Reality
How have we learned to make sense of the physical world? The answer is far from obvious. Indeed, most of our knowledge is counterintuitive. We know the Earth goes around the sun, not the converse, but that’s not the way it seems. Seeing is often misleading, and our contemporary grasp of reality is rooted instead in deep thinking and testable models. Students grapple with five transformative ideas that have changed the way we see the world, focusing on what it means to explain something quantitatively and how we test the validity of that explanation.
A descriptive review of the astrophysical theories of the origin and development of the early universe. The Big Bang theory is examined in detail, with attendant evidence and theories of particles, fields, energy and entropy, and space-time geometry. Current models of supernovas, quasars, black and white holes, dark matter, quantum foam, and recent alternative models of supersymmetry and superstrings are analyzed.
The History of Science before Newton
Science History and Philosophy 222
T. S. Kuhn’s model of historical progress is used to examine selected parts of discourses involving pre-Socratic philosophy, mythology, Copernican astronomy, Galileo’s trial, and Newton’s philosophy.
Physical Science after Newton
Science History and Philosophy 223
CROSS-LISTED: STS, VICTORIAN STUDIES
A survey of major agendas of physical science since 1750. Characteristic episodes include Lavoisier and the theory of elements; Maxwell and the mathematization of physics; arguments about light from Newton, Young, Michelson, and Einstein; 20th-century atomic theory; and the emergence of “big science.”
Science History and Philosophy 225
An examination of Albert Einstein’s life and work, as well as the impact of his work on current worldviews and the controversies involved therein, using biography and popular descriptions of the relativity theories, atomic theories, and optical theories. In addition to primary sources, readings include works by Overbye, Følsing, and Holton. Accessible to students with no prior college?level scientific or mathematical experience.