Biology

Biology is the study of life in its broadest sense, ranging from topics such as the role of trees in affecting global atmospheric carbon dioxide down to the molecular mechanisms that switch genes on and off in human brain cells. Biology includes a tremendous variety of disciplines: molecular biology, immunology, histology, anatomy, physiology, developmental biology, behavior, evolution, ecology, and many others. Because Sarah Lawrence College faculty members are broadly trained and frequently teach across the traditional disciplinary boundaries, students gain an integrated knowledge of living things—a view of the forest as well as the trees.

In order to provide a broad introduction and foundation in the field of biology, a number of courses appear under the designation General Biology Series. Each of these open-level, semester-long courses have an accompanying lab component. Students may enroll in any number of the General Biology Series courses during their time at Sarah Lawrence and in any order, although it is strongly recommended that students begin with General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution in the fall semester. Completion of any two General Biology Series courses fulfills the minimum biology curriculum requirements for medical school admission. These courses typically meet the prerequisite needs for further intermediate- and advanced-level study in biology, as well.

Biology 2021-2022 Courses

Forensic Biology

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

From hit television shows such as CSI, Bones, and Forensic Files to newspaper headlines that breathlessly relate the discovery of a murder victim’s remains...and to Casey Anthony, JonBenet Ramsey, and other real-life cases, it is clear that the world of forensic science has captured the public imagination. Forensic science describes the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems and encompasses an impressively wide variety of subdisciplines and areas of expertise, ranging from forensic anthropology to wildlife forensics. In this course, we will specifically focus on the realm of forensic biology—the generation and use of legally relevant information gleaned from the field of biology. In an effort to move beyond sensationalism and the way forensic biology is portrayed in the public media, we will explore the actual science and techniques that form the basis of forensic biology and seek to understand the use and limitations of such information in the legal sphere. Beginning with the historical development of forensic biology, selected topics will likely include death and stages of decomposition; determination of postmortem intervals; the role of microorganisms in decomposition; vertebrate and invertebrate scavenging; wound patterning; urban mummification; biological material collection and storage; victim and ancestral identification by genetic analysis; the use of DNA databases such as CODIS; and the biological basis of other criminalistics procedures, including fingerprinting and blood type analysis. Finally, we will consider DNA privacy and US Supreme Court rulings, including the 2013 decision Maryland v. King, which established the right of law enforcement to take DNA samples from individuals arrested for a crime. In all of these areas, the techniques and concepts employed are derived from some of the most fundamental principles and structure/function relationships that underlie the entire field of biology. No background in biology is required; indeed, a primary objective of this course is to use our exploration within the framework of forensic biology as a means to develop a broader and more thorough understanding of the science of biology.

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General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

Biology, the study of life on Earth, encompasses structures and forms ranging from the very minute to the very large. In order to grasp the complexities of life, we begin this study with the cellular and molecular forms and mechanisms that serve as the foundation for all living organisms. The initial part of the semester will introduce the fundamental molecules critical to the biochemistry of life processes. From there, we branch out to investigate the major ideas, structures, and concepts central to the biology of cells, genetics, and the chromosomal basis of inheritance. Finally, we conclude the semester by examining how those principles relate to the mechanisms of evolution. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the individuals responsible for major discoveries, as well as the experimental techniques and process by which such advances in biological understanding are made. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Evolutionary Biology

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

What biological processes led to the development of the incredible diversity of life that we see on Earth today? The process of evolution, or a change in the inherited traits in a population over time, is fundamental to our understanding of biology and the history of life on Earth. This course will introduce students to the field of evolutionary biology. We will interpret evidence from the fossil record, molecular genetics, systematics, and empirical studies to deepen our understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. Topics covered include the genetic basis of evolution, phylogenetics, natural selection, adaptation, speciation, coevolution, and the evolution of behavior and life-history traits. Students will attend one weekly, 90-minute lecture and one weekly, 90-minute group conference where scientific papers in evolutionary biology will be discussed in small groups.

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Drugs and the Brain

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

The nervous system is the ultimate target of many drugs: those taken to alleviate pain, to increase pleasure, or to transform perceptions. In this lecture course, we will focus on the neuronal targets and mechanisms of psychoactive drugs, including the neurotransmitter systems that they modulate. We will consider stimulants, depressants, narcotics, analgesics, hallucinogens, and psychotherapeutics. Drug use cannot be fully explained, however, by simply identifying the neuronal proteins with which drugs interact. In order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of drug use and abuse, we will explore the social, political, economic, and genetic factors that influence drug consumption—both legal and illegal—and drug epidemics, including the current opioid epidemic in the United States. We will learn about drug sources, forms, and methods of use while also exploring what is known about the biological basis of tolerance, cravings, withdrawal, and the disease of addiction. Finally, we will explore the neurobiological mechanisms of the current available treatments for drug overdose and addiction. Lectures will be complemented by small-group conference research projects.

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Genetics

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

At the biological core of all life on Earth is the gene. The unique combination of genes in each individual ultimately forms the basis for that person’s physical appearance, metabolic capacity, thought processes, and behavior. Therefore, in order to understand how life develops and functions, it is critical to understand what genes are, how they work, and how they are passed on from parents to offspring. In this course, we will begin by investigating the theories of inheritance first put forth by Mendel and then progress to our current concepts of how genes are transmitted through individuals, families, and whole populations. We will also examine chromosome structure, the molecular functions of genes and DNA, and how mutations in DNA can lead to physical abnormalities and diseases such as Down and Turner syndromes or hemophilia. Finally, we will discuss the role of genetics in influencing such complex phenotypes as behavior and intelligence. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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General Biology Series: Ecology

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Ecology is a scientific discipline that studies interactions between living organisms and their environments, as well as processes governing how species are distributed, how they interact, and how nutrients and energy cycle through ecosystems. Ecologists might ask questions about how plant growth responds to climate change, how squirrel population size or behavior changes in response to acorn availability, or how nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous cycle in rivers and streams. In this course, students will develop a strong foundational understanding of the science of ecology at the individual, population, community, and ecosystem scales. Throughout the course, emphasis will be placed on how carefully designed experiments and data analysis can help us find predictable patterns despite the complexity of nature. Students will be expected to design and carry out a field experiment in small groups. The course will include a weekly lab section, with most labs held outdoors.

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Animal Behavior

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Why do birds sing? Why do wolves hunt in packs, but spiders hunt alone? Why are worker bees willing to die to protect the queen? In short, why do animals do the things they do? In this course, we will explore how ecological forces drive the evolution of animal behavior. We will start by discussing the fundamental theoretical toolkit used to form robust hypotheses about animal behaviors, including basic concepts drawn from the study of evolutionary biology and ecology. We will then use these tools to explore diverse behavioral topics from mating and parental care, to communication and social behavior, to foraging and predation. We will be reading and discussing research, as well as history and philosophy, from the field. Students will have the opportunity to build their own behavior-based study over the course of the semester.

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Neurological Disorders

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Disorders of the brain are often devastating. They can disrupt key characteristics of life, from memory formation and retrieval to communication and personality to execution of movements, including those necessary for breathing. In this course, we will learn about the brain in health and disease by exploring the neuroscience of neurological disorders. We will study Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, lytico-bodig, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and autism spectrum disorder. We will consider these disorders holistically and from a biological point of view. We will explore the lived experience of the affected and their loved ones. We will see how symptoms of the disorders can be understood by studying what is known about the neural tissues, cells, and molecules that are dysfunctional in the disease state. We will explore what is known about the genetic or environmental underpinnings of the disorders and any current treatments available. Readings will be drawn from the writings of the prominent neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, in addition to magazine articles, scientific studies, and relevant films that complement and expand upon Sacks’ descriptions of brain function.

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Modern Biology: The Roots of Life

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

The study of life is as old as human history, as we’ve long sought to unravel the mechanisms of the body, the mysteries of inheritance, the malevolence of disease, the magic of reproduction, or a thousand other questions about the natural world and its inhabitants. Paradoxically, our present understanding of biology and our latest advancements are the result of relatively recent discoveries that date back a mere century or two and often far less. This has led to biology being a young, vibrant, dynamic field of study, in which innovative breakthroughs—ranging from in vitro fertilization to viral vaccines—occur in seemingly rapid-fire fashion and forge previously unimagined possibilities for the future. This new course will explore the cellular and molecular workings that have marked our rapid progress, from early 20th-century studies to the latest advances of today, through the examination of parallel, sequential threads of development. For example, identification of DNA structure in the 1950s led to the advent of DNA sequencing technologies in the 1970s that, in turn, sparked the Human Genome Project in the 1990s, forming the promise of personalized medicine today. Other topic threads will include: bacterial viruses, recombinant DNA technology, gene therapy and GMOs, CRISPR-based genetic engineering; IVF, cloning; Henrietta Lacks, war on cancer, immunotherapy; gene silencing, microRNAs, COVID vaccines. The goal is to develop a deeper understanding of the biological principles and mechanisms that govern the latest, cutting-edge biotechnologies, as well as to be able to trace back how these recent advancements rest upon previous discoveries—all of which weave together to form the rich tapestry of modern biology.

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General Biology Series: Anatomy and Physiology

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Anatomy is the branch of science that investigates the bodily structure of living organisms, while physiology is the study of the normal functions of those organisms. In this course, we will explore the human body in both health and disease. Focus will be placed on the major body units, such as skin, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. By emphasizing concepts and critical thinking rather than rote memorization, we will make associations between anatomical structures and their functions. The course will have a clinical approach to health and illness, with examples drawn from medical disciplines such as radiology, pathology, and surgery. Laboratory work will include dissections and microscope work. A final conference paper is required at the conclusion of the course; the topic will be chosen by each student to emphasize the relevance of anatomy/physiology to our understanding of the human body.

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Marine Biology

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

The oceans cover more than 70 percent of our planet and provide 99 percent of habitable space. In this seminar, we will learn about the incredible biodiversity in the marine environment and the physical and chemical factors that allow the oceans to support such high diversity and productivity. We will cover physical processes, including circulation and the carbon pump, and abiotic factors that influence marine organisms, including light, nutrients, and temperature. Additionally, we will go over the major groups of invertebrates and vertebrates and the variety of ecosystems that these organisms inhabit, including coral reefs, mangrove forests, estuaries, and deep-sea communities. We will then examine human impacts on the oceans, focusing on fishing and climate change. Class activities may include trips to local tide pools.

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Animal Communication

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

From the haunting howls of wolves to the rainbow colors of tropical fish, the world is alive with the sounds, smells, and sights of animals talking to each other. Animals communicate for many reasons—from sharing information about potential predators, to negotiating access to food, to deciding whether or not to raise offspring together. In this course, we will discuss how animal signals evolve; how they work; and what makes them look, sound, smell, feel, and taste the way they do. To answer these questions, we will examine the goals and interests of signalers and receivers, how signals are shaped by the environments they move through, and why they are so often sensory experiences beyond what humans can see and hear. We will also discuss how the cultures and experiences of the scientists who study these questions have both guided and constrained our understanding of animal signals.

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Cell Biology

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Cells are the most basic unit of life on the planet. All life forms are simply conglomerations of cells, ranging from the individual bacterial cells to the higher order plants and animals. Humans, themselves, are made up of trillions of cells. So what exactly is a cell? What is it made of? How does it function? In a complex organism, how do cells communicate with one another and coordinate their activities? How do they regulate their growth? What role do genes play in controlling cellular function? This course will address these questions and introduce the basic biology of cells while keeping in mind their larger role in tissues and organs. If we can understand the structures and functions of the individual cells that serve as the subunits of larger organisms, we can begin to understand the biological nature of humans and other complex life forms.

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Microbiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Humans are bathing in a sea of microbes. Microbes coat our environments, live within our bodies, and perform functions both beneficial and detrimental to human well-being. This course will explore the biology of microorganisms, broadly defined as bacteria, archaea, viruses, single-celled eukaryotes, and fungi. We will study microbes at multiple scales, including the individual cell, the growing population, and populations interacting with one another or their environments. Microbial physiology, genetics, diversity, and ecology will be covered in depth. Particular emphasis will be given to the role of microbes that cause infectious disease in humans and microbes that play critical roles in ecological processes. Seminars will be supplemented by a weekly lab section to learn key microbiological techniques and methods, most notably culturing and identifying bacteria.

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Plant Systematics and Evolution

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Understanding the diversity of plants and their evolutionary relationships is fundamental to understanding the complex web of life on Earth. Nearly all other organisms, including humans, rely on plants—directly or indirectly—for their food and oxygen. Consequently, plants are essential to our existence; and by studying plants in detail, we learn more about our own species and the world we inhabit. This course is a detailed survey of plant diversity and the evolutionary relationships of plants. In the course, you will gain a thorough understanding of the diverse morphology of plants and will acquire an understanding of the plant “Tree of Life.” You will be able to describe morphological structures of plants using botanical terminology and learn how to identify prominent plant families using diagnostic morphological characters and plant keys. Seminars and associated labs will be supplemented with independent field collections.

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First-Year Studies: Chemistry for Contrarians: A Nontraditional Science Course for Liberal Arts Students

Open, FYS—Year

For anyone who wants to know how the world (and the universe) works at a fundamental level, modern science has (almost) all the answers; however, painful memories of school science classes and seemingly impenetrable scientific jargon often put people off from engaging with this area of study. In this course, we will take two very different approaches to engage with chemistry and related areas of physics and biology. I hope to convince you that science is, ultimately, about people—how we learn about and change our beliefs concerning the physical world. Fall semester: Gaming Our Way to Scientific Literacy. In recent years, a number of educational board and card games have been designed to aid students in learning the vocabulary and concepts of the physical and life sciences. The manufacturers of these games claim that they are scientifically accurate and offer a novel way for nontraditional learners to develop a working knowledge of basic science. We will study a number of important core topics in subatomic and atomic physics, chemistry, and biochemistry. To enliven our classes, we will use the following games as the center of each unit of study: Subatomic: An Atom Building Game™; Periodic: A Game of the Elements™; Covalence: A Molecule Building Game™; Ion: A Compound Building Game™; Peptide: A Protein Building Game™; and Cytosis: A Cell Biology Game™. In each case, we will look at how the developers have integrated current scientific knowledge into their games. By playing, we will determine how effective these games are in helping us to learn scientific concepts and to gain confidence using scientific vocabulary. Spring Semester: Reading and Writing the Biography of Chemistry. During the spring semester, we will read the stories of some chemical elements and important chemical compounds—not just their discovery but also their cultural and historical significance. We will discover how different cultures affect attitudes toward various chemicals and their use and how, in return, important chemicals have affected culture and transformed lives. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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General Chemistry I

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Chemistry is the study of the properties, composition, and transformation of matter. Chemistry is central to the production of the materials required for modern life; for example, the synthesis of pharmaceuticals to treat disease, the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides required to feed an ever-growing population, and the development of efficient and environmentally benign energy sources. This course provides an introduction to the fundamental concepts of modern chemistry. We will begin by examining the structure and properties of atoms, which are the building blocks of the elements and the simplest substances in the material world around us. We will then explore how atoms of different elements can bond with each other to form an infinite variety of more complex substances, called compounds. This will lead us to an investigation of several classes of chemical reactions: the processes by which substances are transformed into new materials with different physical properties. Along the way, we will learn how and why the three states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases) differ from one another and how energy may be either produced or consumed by chemical reactions. In weekly laboratory sessions, we will perform experiments to illustrate and test the theories presented in the lecture part of the course. These experiments will also serve to develop practical skills in both synthetic and analytic chemical techniques.

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Nutrition

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Nutrition is the sum of all interactions between us and the food that we consume. The study of nutrition includes the nature and general role of nutrients in forming structural material, providing energy, and helping to regulate metabolism. How do food chemists synthesize the fat that can’t be digested? Can this kind of fat satisfy our innate appetite for fats? Are there unwanted side effects, and why? What constitutes a healthy diet? What are the consequences of severely restricted food intake being seen as a prevalent emotional disorder, such as anorexia and bulimia? These and other questions will be discussed. We will also discuss the effects of development, pregnancy, emotional state, and disease on nutritional requirements. And we will consider the effects of food production and processing on nutrition value and food safety.

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General Chemistry II

Intermediate, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is a continuation of General Chemistry I. We will begin with a detailed study of both the physical and chemical properties of solutions, which will enable us to consider the factors that affect both the rates and direction of chemical reactions. We will then investigate the properties of acids and bases and the role that electricity plays in chemistry. The course will conclude with introductions to nuclear chemistry and organic chemistry. Weekly laboratory sessions will allow us to demonstrate and test the theories described in the lecture segment of the course.

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Organic Chemistry I

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Organic chemistry is the study of chemical compounds whose molecules are based on a framework of carbon atoms, typically in combination with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Despite this rather limited set of elements, there are more organic compounds known than there are compounds that do not contain carbon. Adding to the importance of organic chemistry is the fact that very many of the chemical compounds that make modern life possible—such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, plastics, pigments, and dyes—can be classed as organic. Organic chemistry, therefore, impacts many other scientific subjects; and knowledge of organic chemistry is essential for a detailed understanding of materials science, environmental science, molecular biology, and medicine. This course gives an overview of the structures, physical properties, and reactivity of organic compounds. We will see that organic compounds can be classified into families of similar compounds based upon certain groups of atoms that always behave in a similar manner no matter what molecule they are in. These functional groups enable us to rationalize the vast number of reactions that organic reagents undergo. Topics covered in this course include: the types of bonding within organic molecules; fundamental concepts of organic reaction mechanisms (nucleophilic substitution, elimination, and electrophilic addition); the conformations and configurations of organic molecules; and the physical and chemical properties of alkanes, halogenoalkanes, alkenes, alkynes, and alcohols. In the laboratory section of the course, we will develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences.

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Biochemistry

Advanced, Small seminar—Fall

This course is concerned with the chemical basis of biology. We will begin by examining the structure and function of the main classes of biologically important molecules: amino acids, peptides, and proteins; carbohydrates; and lipids. We will then look at enzyme activity, including the mechanisms, kinetics, and regulation of enzyme-mediated reactions. This will be followed by an overview of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and their role within eukaryotic cells. The study of biological membranes will then lead to an investigation of bioenergetics and metabolic processes within cells.

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Organic Chemistry II

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the physical and chemical properties of additional families of organic molecules. The reactivity of aromatic compounds, aldehydes and ketones, carboxylic acids and their derivatives (acid chlorides, acid anhydrides, esters, and amides), enols and enolates, and amines will be discussed. We will also investigate the methods by which large, complicated molecules can be synthesized from simple starting materials. Modern methods of organic structural determination—such as mass spectrometry, 1H and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy—will also be introduced. In the laboratory section of this course, we will continue to develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry II is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences.

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Green Infrastructure

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Green infrastructure has the potential to transform our cities, replacing asphalt and concrete with soil, vegetation, and waterways. But while cities across the globe are now developing green infrastructure plans to protect water resources, enhance biodiversity, and adapt to the impacts of global climate change, there is an ongoing debate on what green infrastructure actually is. And there are still many remaining barriers to its broad implementation in our cities and suburbs. In this seminar, we will explore green infrastructure through the lens of ecosystem services—the regulating, provisioning, and cultural benefits that natural ecosystems provide for free to humans. Through quantitative case studies and field visits to green infrastructure projects in Yonkers and New York City, we will learn about a variety of different types of green infrastructure, including rain gardens, green roofs, detention basins, and constructed wetlands. We will also learn about the challenges associated with assessing the performance of green infrastructure and will critically evaluate existing green infrastructure plans and designs.

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Geospatial Data

Open, Seminar—Spring

Geospatial data are information associated with locations on the surface of the Earth. This can include a variety of different types of data used in environmental science, such as sample collection locations at a field study site, the areal extent of a forest biome, or the output generated by global climate models. The analysis of geospatial data also allows social scientists to identify disparities in access to natural resources or exposure to pollutants and hazards and has been critical to the study of environmental justice. This course provides an introduction to foundational concepts in geodesy, cartography, and geostatistics, along with practical experience in geospatial data analysis using open-source geographic information systems (GIS) software. Although we will focus primarily on environmental applications, the skills learned in this course can be utilized in many natural and social-science disciplines—and can also help you avoid getting lost!

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The Environmental Imagination: Perspectives From the Social Sciences, Environmental Humanities, and the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

“Climate change” covers a variety of hydrological, thermal, geological, and atmospheric crises that are intersecting and accelerating in scope and intensity. Inspired by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOvBv8RLmo) performing her poem Earthrise, this course invites a conversation that draws together the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts: a journey through the global climate crisis on a variety of scales, in specific contexts, and through diverse media. Fiction and nonfiction writing, history, and film will be drawn upon to investigate understandings of an epoch controversially called “the Anthropocene.”  What do these different perspectives, methods, and insights bring to our perceptions of specific environments? How do different rhetorical formations, imaginaries, narratives, and visual images inform cognitive and affective responses to the Anthropocene?  What do they bring to our understanding of the global environmental emergency that is the signature of this moment in planetary history? How do interventions in the arts and humanities constitute acts of “world-making”—new ways of seeing, feeling, and imagining human ways of caring for this planet? In conjunction with the literatures of political ecology and cultural anthropology, we will read fiction by authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Stanislas Lem; nonfiction by Robert MacFarlane (Underlands), Ben Ehrenreich (Desert Notebooks), Joseph Masco (irradiated landscapes in the American West), Kate Brown (Plutopia), and Madeleine Watts (The Inland Sea).

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Calculus II: Further Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course continues the thread of mathematical inquiry, following an initial study of the dual topics of differentiation and integration (see Calculus I course description). Topics to be explored in this course include the calculus of exponential and logarithmic functions, applications of integration theory to geometry, alternative coordinate systems, infinite series, and power series representations of functions. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or science, for those preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, or for any simply wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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Multivariable Mathematics: Linear Algebra, Vector Calculus, and Differential Equations

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Rarely is a quantity of interest—tomorrow’s temperature, unemployment rates across Europe, the cost of a spring-break flight to Fort Lauderdale—a simple function of just one primary variable. Reality, for better or worse, is mathematically multivariable. This course introduces an array of topics and tools used in the mathematical analysis of multivariable functions. The intertwined theories of vectors, matrices, and differential equations and their applications will be the central themes of exploration in this yearlong course. Specific topics to be covered include the algebra and geometry of vectors in two, three, and higher dimensions; dot and cross products and their applications; equations of lines and planes in higher dimensions; solutions to systems of linear equations, using Gaussian elimination, theory and applications of determinants, inverses and eigenvectors, volumes of three-dimensional solids via integration, spherical and cylindrical coordinate systems, and methods of visualizing and constructing solutions to differential equations of various types. Conference work will involve an investigation of some mathematically-themed subject of the student’s choosing.

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Classical Mechanics (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Open, Seminar—Fall

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in the physical science, engineering, or health fields. This course will cover introductory classical mechanics, including kinematics, dynamics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including: problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. The best way to develop scientific skills is to practice the scientific process. We will focus on learning physics through discovering, testing, analyzing, and applying fundamental physics concepts in an interactive classroom, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings.

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Introduction to Mechanics (General Physics Without Calculus)

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course covers introductory classical mechanics, including dynamics, kinematics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Students considering careers in architecture or the health sciences, as well as those interested in physics for physics’ sake, should take either this course or Classical Mechanics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. Seminars will incorporate discussion, exploratory activities, and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. A background in calculus is not required.

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Electromagnetism & Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Open, Seminar—Spring

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in the physical science, engineering, or health fields. This course will cover waves, geometric and wave optics, electrostatics, magnetostatics, and electrodynamics. We will use the exploration of the particle and wave properties of light to bookend our discussions and ultimately finish our exploration of classical physics with the hints of its incompleteness. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including: problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. The best way to develop scientific skills is to practice the scientific process. We will focus on learning physics through discovering, testing, analyzing, and applying fundamental physics concepts in an interactive classroom, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings.

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First-Year Studies: The Senses: Art and Science

Open, FYS—Year

The perceiving mind is an incarnated mind. —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1964

Sensory perception is a vital component of the creation and experience of artistic works of all types. Investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for psychologists and neuroscientists developing understanding of brains, minds, and bodies. Recent work in brain science has moved us beyond the Aristotelian notion of five discrete senses to a view of the senses as more various and interconnected—with each other and with the fundamental psychological categories of perception, attention, emotion, memory, imagination, and judgment. What we call “taste” is a multisensory construction of “flavor” that relies heavily on smell, vision, and touch (mouth feel); “vision” refers to a set of semi-independent streams that specialize in the processing of color, object identity, or spatial layout and movement; “touch” encompasses a complex system of responses to different types of contact with the largest sensory organ—the skin; and “hearing” includes aspects of perception that are thought to be quintessentially human—music and language. Many other sensations are not covered by the standard five: for example, the senses of balance, of body position (proprioception) and ownership, feelings of pain arising from within the body, and feelings of heat or cold. Perceptual psychologists have suggested that the total count is closer to 17 than five. We will investigate all of these senses, their interactions with each other, and their intimate relationships with human emotion, memory, and imagination. Some of the questions that we will address are: Why are smells such potent memory triggers? What can visual art tell us about how the brain works and vice versa? Why is a caregiver’s touch so vital for psychological development? Why do foods that taste sublime to some people evoke feelings of disgust in others? Do humans have a poor sense of smell (and have the effects of COVID-19 changed our views of its importance)? Why does the word “feeling” refer to both bodily sensations and emotions? What makes a song “catchy” or “sticky”? Can humans learn to echolocate like bats? What is the role of body perception in mindfulness meditation? This is a good course for artists who like to think about science and for scientists with a feeling for art. This is a collaborative course, with small-group meetings held weekly in addition to the individual conference meetings held every other week. The main small-group, collaborative activity is a sensory lab where students will have the opportunity to explore their own sensory perceptions in a systematic way, investigating how they relate to language, memory, and emotion. Other group activities include mindful movement and other meditation practices for stress relief and emotional regulation, as well as occasional museum visits if these can be done safely.

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First-Year Studies: Emotions and Decisions

Open, FYS—Year

So many of our decisions, big or small, are influenced by our emotions—at times without our explicit knowledge or conscious awareness of their influence. Becoming aware of our emotions and improving the quality of our emotions (by increasing our overall well-being) may ultimately lead to an improvement in the types of choices that we make on a daily basis. In this FYS, we will explore the relationship between emotions and decisions. During the fall semester, we will read works in popular media, English literature, psychology, and behavioral economics to explore how emotions influence decisions in a variety of contexts, including personal, social/sexual, forensic, financial, and political realms. In the spring, we will approach the relationship between emotions and decisions by looking at the brain areas involved in generating, expressing, and regulating emotions and making decisions, along with the overlap of the brain’s involvement in those processes. Throughout the year, students will meet in biweekly conferences with the instructor and weekly small-group “collaboratives” with their peers that will include creative group activities, writing workshops, book/journal clubs, screenings, guest lectures, and hands-on labs.

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Perspectives on Child Development

Open, Seminar—Spring

A noted psychologist once said, “What you see depends on how you look.” Our subject is the worlds of childhood; and, in this class, we try out the lenses of different psychological theories to highlight different aspects of those worlds. Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, and Stern provide differing perspectives on emotional development. Skinner, Bandura, Piaget, and Vygotsky present various approaches to the problems of learning and cognition. Chess and her colleagues take up the issues of temperament and its interaction with experience. Chomsky and others deal with the development of language. We will read the theorists closely for their answers but also for their questions, asking which aspects of childhood each theory throws into focus. We will also examine some systematic studies that developmental psychologists have carried out to confirm, test, and critique various theories: studies of mother-infant relationships, the development of cognition and language, and the emergence of intersubjectivity. In several of these domains, studies done in cultures other than our own cast light on the question of universality versus cultural specificity in development. Direct observation is an important complement to theoretical readings. All students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or find some other opportunity for observing and interacting with children. As part of the seminar, we will at times draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts. The fieldwork will also provide the basis for developing conference work. Ideally, conference projects combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the many diverse projects students have designed in the past are topics such as children’s friendships, the meanings of block building, and how young children use language.

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Art and Visual Perception

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience. In this large seminar, you will meet weekly in small groups (five-to-seven students) to design a collaborative conference work that curates an in-depth perceptual museum tour. Individual conference meetings will be held only twice over the course of the semester.

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The Mind-Body Connection: Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, and your pupils dilate—all at once. Is this because you are exercising? Or did someone you really like just enter the room? Psychophysiology is the experimental study of these bodily, or peripheral, signals, which are theorized to be important “read-outs” of a person’s emotional state (e.g., fear, happiness, anger). In this course, students will gain a foundational understanding of the biological processes that give rise to peripheral autonomic arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses, brain activity) and how those responses are naturally regulated by the brain and body in a process called homeostasis. We will also survey the brain areas that may be responsible for “catching,” or incorporating, signals from the periphery and ascribing meaning to those signals, which can often happen much later than the time of the event that provoked those bodily responses. We will focus on studies of individuals with brain damage, specifically in brain areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (from work by Antonio Damasio and others) and the insula (from work by Sahib Khalsa and others). In so doing, we will discuss major theories of emotion and the mind-body connection, including the James-Lange Theory, the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (Damasio), and the Neurovisceral Integration Model (Thayer & Lane), among others. Through in-class labs and conference work, students will learn how to measure the peripheral markers of arousal and relate those signals to emotionally provocative events and brain activity. Toward the latter third of the class, students will be in charge of leading discussions around applications of psychophysiology in social interactions, sleep and dreaming, decision-making and consumerism, psychopathology (mental health), and social justice.

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Measuring Difference: Constructing Race, Gender, and Ability

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will explore the sociology of classification, a subfield that critiques the ways in which society measures differences like race, gender, ability, and other social categories that communicate social worth. Three questions guide our inquiry: How does society construct and understand categories of difference? How do people experience and resist categories of social difference in themselves? How does social difference shape institutions like the family, education, employment, and government? Each week, students will engage a selection of texts that put theory, substantive research on social categories, and critical responses to them in conversation with one another. For a final class project, students will explore one area of social difference through individual and group writing assignments. Those assignments will provide training in documentary analysis, a qualitative method often used in historical and ethnographic research. Students will leave the course with the ability to identify areas of social difference, the practices through which these are produced, and a systematic critique of the ways in which measurement creates inequality in the social world.

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Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined our attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation; Eden, the lost garden). We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the Earth, the air? How can poetry address the planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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