Biology

What Will Studying Biology Look Like in Fall 2020?

In line with the rest of the College, the only course likely to be offered in-person is the First Year Studies course in Biology (FYS: Conflicts in Biology). Because other courses will likely have a mixture of students who are living on-campus, commuting, and participating online, the class meetings will be conducted online via MySLC, Zoom, or another platform. Where possible, individual conferences for students will be conducted in-person. Group conferences for lectures will be conducted online for small cohorts of remote students and in-person where possible for on-campus and commuting students. The topics of discussion covered in classes and conferences will remain the same, regardless of whether students are in person or online.

Traditional lab experiences like those that have existed in previous years will not be possible in the same way in the fall. Here’s how labs will work in Biology, along with some other information about this discipline.

  • General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution is our gateway course to the biological sciences, and typically has an in-person lab section. This semester will still have a lab component, but the labs will be asynchronous and remote for all students. Labs will involve biological experiments that can be performed in home environments or outdoor spaces. Students will also gain experience with PCR and other molecular biology tools through demonstrations and simulations, and analyze molecular data using bioinformatics tools.
  • For other courses, while we will not be able to exactly replicate an in-person laboratory experience, faculty have been devising many creative ways for students to gain scientific experience outside of the laboratory. In some courses, in lieu of a weekly laboratory meeting, experimental topics will be integrated into seminars. Some topics will be explored using online tools, while others will be approached by students conducting experiments in their home environments and nearby outdoor spaces. These experiments will either involve using resources commonly available in households, or students will be sent packages containing necessary tools.
  • Students in residence or commuting to campus will have the option of developing a conference project involving lab work in upper-level seminar courses, with permission of the instructor.

As of now, the Summer Science Program for 2021 is expected to proceed as normal. Information and applications regarding internship and externship opportunities for research in science and mathematics will be made available towards the end of the fall and beginning of the spring semester. Advising for our pre-professional programs (pre-health and Columbia combined Engineering plan) will continue to be provided to students in-person or online.

Further questions regarding any of the 2020-21 academic year plans should be directed to the appropriate faculty.


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.

2020-2021 Courses

Biology

First-Year Studies: Conflicts in Biology

Open , FYS—Year

As the frontiers of science are pushed forward, conflicts naturally emerge between new hypotheses and established ideas. Biology is no exception to this rule. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, new proposals examining the biological nature of humans and the living world have initially met with resistance and even ridicule before becoming established as modern paradigms. What appears obvious now was once regarded as revolutionary, while it is conceivable that current ideas one day will be regarded as bordering on the absurd. Oftentimes, these conflicts arise not only due to the convergence of scientific principles but also result from personality clashes of the individuals involved in the research area. Paradigm shifts have occurred in a variety of biological fields, ranging from early ideas on heredity, sex determination, and evolution to more recent advances in prion and mad cow diseases, animal model usage, genetic engineering, cutting-edge cancer therapies, and the interplay between genes and environment. Using these and other examples, we will examine the progress of biological thought and the persistence of the scientific method in changing our understanding of life. During the fall semester, students will meet weekly with the instructor 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 Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open , Small Lecture—Fall

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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Human Genetics

Open , Lecture—Fall

The formation of an individual’s life is dependent upon a complex mixture of cultural experiences, social interactions, and personal health and physiology. At the center of this intricate web lies the biological components unique to each of us, yet shared in some form by all life on Earth—our genes. Genes contribute much to what makes each of us an individual, from hair color and body shape to intelligence and personality. Such genes and traits are inherited from our parents, yet environmental factors can profoundly influence their function in different individuals. Stunning advancements in the field of genetics are reported every day, from the identification of new genes for particular traits to the development of gene-based tests for human diseases. But what exactly are genes, and how do they work in humans? In this course, we will explore how genes and chromosomes provide the basic blueprint that leads to our unique physical and behavioral characteristics. In doing so, we will discuss the central concepts of human genetics, including: the mechanisms and patterns of inheritance, sex-linked traits, the genetics of behavior, DNA and proteins, the role of mutations in causing disease, human origins and evolution, and the application of various technologies such as gene therapy and genetic engineering. Readings will be drawn from texts, as well as from current popular-press and peer-reviewed articles. No previous background in biology is required other than a curiosity and desire to understand the genetic mechanisms that shape human existence and make us who we are.

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Sensory Biology

Open , Seminar—Fall

Why do chili peppers taste “hot,” while peppermint gum tastes “cold”? How can humans distinguish between a trillion different odors? Can onions be confused with apples if our noses are plugged? Why do flowers appear different to humans and to bees? Why can’t we hear the echolocation calls of most bats? The answers to these questions lie in our understanding of how animals interact with their environments via sensory perception. In this course, we will study the sensory systems underlying hearing, balance, vision, smell, taste, and touch, as well as unique abilities that support some animal navigation strategies like magnetoreception used by butterflies and sea turtles during migration. We will explore senses from a neurobiological perspective and, therefore, will begin with an overview of the nervous system and the structure and function of neurons. We will then study how each sense is based on the perception of a particular stimulus by specialized sensory neurons within specialized sensory tissues. We will discuss how stimuli are converted to cellular information and how that is communicated to the brain, leading to perception.

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Science Research Seminar

Open , Seminar—Spring

Each semester, the science and mathematics faculty members invite scientists to campus to share their current research projects with our community via a talk in our Science Seminar Series. These seminar speakers come from diverse fields, spanning the SciMath disciplines. Students enrolled in this course will learn about cutting-edge scientific research by attending class prior to each Science Seminar for a journal-club style, in-depth discussion of research papers published by the speaker or related to the speaker's research. The discussions will be facilitated by faculty with relevant expertise in the subject area. Students will then attend the Science Seminar presentation and, afterward, meet with the speaker as a group, allowing for conversations about scientific research and career trajectories.

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Giving, Taking, and Cheating: The Ecology of Symbiosis

Open , Seminar—Spring

From gut flora of animals to fungi living in tree roots, symbioses are important and widespread throughout the natural world. We can broadly define symbiosis as different species living together in a close association of any nature, from mutualism to parasitism. In this seminar course, we will explore how symbioses are developed, maintained, and broken down and consider the scientific challenges to understanding the function of such associations. We will read and discuss papers from the primary literature exploring a broad range of taxonomic groups, including fungus-farming ants, bioluminescent bacteria living in squid, figs and their wasp pollinators, parasitic butterflies, and sloths and the moths that live in their fur. We will place a special emphasis on mutualisms, or interactions in which both partners benefit—unless, of course, one cheats. We will also think carefully about how to design scientific experiments to understand the nature of symbioses, as well as how to design and carry out class experiments on mutualisms between plants and nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

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Hormones, Food, and Sex

Open , Seminar—Spring

Hormones are released from diverse tissues, including the brain, ovaries, testes, and fatty tissues. The small molecules travel around the body via the circulatory system and can influence the activity of distant cells involved in key biological processes. In this course, we will study the principles of hormone signaling (endocrinology) by focusing on two overarching topics: (1) hormones that modulate food intake and utilization; and (2) hormones that control reproduction. We will study the hormones that control appetite, flavor, fat deposition, and weight and how hormone levels contribute to sustaining unhealthy weights in obese individuals. We will study the hormones that control many aspects of reproduction, including puberty, ovulation, sexuality, sex, pregnancy, birth, lactation, and menopause. We will consider how hormones define male and female characteristics, as well as hormone therapy for transitioning transgender individuals.

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General Biology Series: Anatomy and Physiology

Open , Seminar—Spring

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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Principles of Botany

Open , Seminar—Spring

Understanding the basic principles of plant biology is crucial to understanding the complex web of life on Earth and its evolutionary history. Nearly all other organisms, including humans, rely on plants—directly or indirectly—for their basic needs. Consequently, plants are essential to our existence; and by studying them, we learn more about our self and the world we inhabit. This course is an introductory survey of botanical science and is designed for the student with little science background. We will broadly examine numerous topics related to botany, including: cell biology comprising DNA/RNA, photosynthesis, and respiration; plant structure, reproduction, and evolution; as well as plant diversity, ecology, and habitats. Seminars and textbook readings will be supplemented by a field trip to the New York Botanical Garden. Conference projects will provide the opportunity for the student to explore specific botanical interests in detail.

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Disease Ecology

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

This course explores infectious diseases—disease caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other parasites—through the lens of ecology. Thinking like a disease ecologist means asking questions about disease at different scales. Rather than considering interactions just between an individual host and a parasite, we will look at disease at the population, community, and ecosystem levels. A disease ecologist may ask questions such as: How does a disease make a jump from one species to another? Why are some environments so conducive to disease transmission? How can we make better predictions of where and when new diseases may emerge and develop better management strategies to combat them? A disease ecologist may even consider infected hosts as ecosystems, where pathogens feed on hosts, compete with one another, and face off with the host’s immune system or its beneficial microbiome. Mathematical models of disease transmission and spread will be introduced. We will consider examples from plant, wildlife, and human disease systems.

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Animal Physiology

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: at least one course in the General Biology Series.

Animal physiology is the study how all components of animals—from cells to tissues to organs and organ systems—function together to support life. In this course, we will study many of the major categories of physiology while considering the overarching concepts of mechanism, form and function, adaptation, and homeostasis. Among possible topics are: circulation, respiration and breathing, feeding and digestion, movement and muscle, thermoregulation, osmoregulation, hormonal regulation, reproduction, neurons and the nervous system, sensory systems, and camouflage. As we discuss each physiological process, we will also explore ways in which different animals use species-specific adaptations to execute those processes (so-called comparative physiology). For instance, humans breathe using internal sack-like structures—the lungs—while frogs and salamanders can extract oxygen from the air by simple diffusion across their skin, and insects breathe through multiple small openings in their bodies that lead to an intricate series of tubes that permeate their entire organism, thereby obtaining oxygen without the use of a circulatory system. Diverse mechanisms such as these allow us to understand the fundamental principles of physiology and how they are employed in remarkable ways across the animal kingdom.

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Neurobiology

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: at least one college-level course in biology, chemistry, or psychology.

The human brain contains a hundred billion neurons whose functions underlie our remarkable capacities, including the ability to sense our environment, communicate via language, learn and remember, perform precise movements, and experience and express emotions. In this introduction to neurobiology, we will delve deep into the structure and function of neurons and how they communicate with each other, with a focus on the action potential and neurotransmission; and we will learn how changes in neuronal structure underlie learning and memory. We will then apply that knowledge to study our major senses from molecular-, cellular-, and systems-level perspectives. Students will engage with cutting-edge scientific research through examining primary literature articles in journal clubs and writing and presenting research papers on topics in neurobiology. Seminar classes will be complemented by weekly laboratory meetings that will involve the learning of techniques to study neurobiology, as well as the design and execution of a small-group, independent research project.

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Advanced Cell Biology

Advanced , Seminar—Spring

The different kinds of cells in an organism—and the different ways that any cell can respond to changes in its environment—result from differences in the timing and level of expression of various genes that are responsible for their different cellular activity. Therefore, a fundamental question in biology is to understand the mechanisms used by cells to regulate gene expression and subsequent cell function. Most regulation of gene function occurs at the level of DNA activity (transcription), and it has been estimated that 10% of all human genes encode the transcription factors responsible for this level of regulation. Because of the complexity of the cell and the critical need to maintain normal cell function in a variety of environments, however, multiple mechanisms have evolved to modify and control cell activity. In this course, we will focus on these various mechanisms, examining regulatory events at the level of transcription, translation, receptor activity and signal transduction, determination of cell fate, and the modification and localization of intracellular proteins. Once we understand how cells regulate their function, we can begin to imagine ways in which we may intervene to modify specific cell activities, as well as how specific chemicals and compounds alter those regulatory mechanisms to the detriment of the cell.

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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. The experiments will also serve to develop practical skills in both synthetic and analytic chemical techniques.

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General Chemistry II

Open , 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 (Guided Inquiry)

Open , Seminar—Fall

No prior knowledge of chemistry is required. Students will be able to take this course in the fall, Organic Chemistry II (Guided Inquiry) in the spring, and then General Chemistry or other, more advanced chemistry courses in subsequent years.

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 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 will 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. In addition, the Guided Inquiry exercises conducted in class will sharpen your analytical skills and teach you how to think like a scientist. Depending on the COVID-19 situation, the lab portion of this course may proceed as normal, be postponed until later in the semester, or offered as a separate one- or two-credit course (Practical Organic Chemistry) in the spring.

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Organic Chemistry II (Guided Inquiry)

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Organic Chemistry I

This course is a continuation of Organic Chemistry I (Guided Inquiry). This semester, 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 (Guided Inquiry) 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 , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: Two semesters of Organic Chemistry.

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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Bio-Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Students should have at least one semester of programming experience in a high-level, object-oriented language such as Python, Java, or C++.

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is concerned with reproducing the abilities of human intelligence in computers. In recent years, exciting new approaches to AI have been developed, inspired by a wide variety of biological processes and structures that are capable of self-organization, adaptation, and learning. This course is a hands-on introduction to the algorithms and techniques of biologically-inspired AI and is intended for students with prior programming experience. Examples of these new approaches include evolutionary computation, artificial neural networks, autonomous robots, and swarm intelligence. We will focus, from both theoretical and practical perspectives, primarily on genetic algorithms, neural networks, deep learning, and reinforcement learning. We will use the Python programming language to implement and experiment with these techniques in detail and to test them out on both simulated and real robots. Students will have many opportunities for extended exploration through open-ended, hands-on lab exercises and conference work.

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Global Climate Change

Open , Seminar—Fall

Global climate change will be the defining issue of the coming decades, impacting most aspects of the global economy, policymaking, and day-to-day life. This seminar will provide a basic foundation in climate science, drawing on fundamental concepts of physics, chemistry, biology, and earth-systems science. We will also examine the linkages between global climate and human society, considering topics such as greenhouse-gas emissions, land-use change, and climate-change impacts. By the end of this course, students will be able to quantitatively apply the concepts that they have learned; to communicate through speech, in writing, and through graphics about technical issues related to climate change; and to understand the role of science in climate policy and decision making.

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Environmental Data

Open , Seminar—Spring

Permission of the instructor is required.

The global environmental movement of the past half-century coincided with a technological revolution that has allowed us to collect many types of new data about our planet. From remote data generated by satellites, to data generated by sensors operating under harsh environmental conditions, to crowdsourced observations submitted by the general public, environmental scientists now have access to a wealth of new information that can be used to better understand earth systems and the ways in which human activities impact our environment. In this seminar, we will explore a variety of types and formats of environmental data and their applications. Participating students will develop a foundation in statistics, scientific computing, and data visualization using SciPy, a collection of open-source software packages in Python. We will also consider broader issues in using data in environmental science, including privacy, ethics, and communicating uncertainty. While seminar activities will focus on environmental data related to the New York City metropolitan area, students will have the opportunity to design and implement an environmental data analysis project on a topic of their choice.

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Realisms: Currents and Crosscurrents in 19th-Century European Thought

Open , Seminar—Fall

The term “realism” enjoyed an unprecedented vogue in 19th-century Europe. All manner of doctrines and ideologies prided themselves on their “realistic” understanding of the human predicament and the structure of the universe while disdaining rival doctrines as captive to illusions and prejudices. Students in this course will read and discuss texts illustrating influential forms of 19th-century European realism in philosophy, ethics, and politics. They will also consider realism in literature and painting. We will try to identify what exactly “realism” meant to each of these philosophical and artistic tendencies and to discover why 19th-century Europeans found the concept of “realism” so irresistible. Since the schools of thought to be investigated often conceived “reality” in diametrically opposed ways, the course will provide an introduction to a number of the most significant intellectual debates of the 19th century. Thinkers to be discussed include Malthus, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Weber, and Freud; creative artists include Turgenev, Strindberg, Courbet, Manet, and Degas.

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Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open , Small Lecture—Spring

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat for biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to explore and understand the concept of “nature” at the core of the Western tradition and how it was shaped over the course of more than 2,000 years. This course will create a series of bridges between and among the history of literature, philosophy, and science, with implications for many other disciplines. Most importantly, we will discuss the Western and Judeo-Christian concept of nature in the context of race and ethnicity in America today by confronting it with works and arguments developed by black, indigenous, Latine, and Asian American authors. Among many themes, we will study how antiquity came to develop a concept of “physis,” so different from our modern understanding of physics, but also shaped our aesthetic eye with the creation of the pastoral genre and the idea of agreeable and tamed landscapes or set a model for a utilitarian relationship to nature with Hesiod and Virgil’s agricultural treaties. We will also analyze specific places, such as the forest in medieval chivalric romances and American “wilderness” fictions, or chaotic landscapes admired and imagined by the Romantics, or the sea as depicted in Melville’s Moby Dick. The 17th-century scientific revolution and its mathematical and mechanistic approach to nature will lead us to discuss with Descartes the concept of animality in parallel with contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, who make use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm. Going into a completely different direction, we will question the characteristics of a Judeo-Christian conception of the world, organized around a remote and immaterial god, in direct opposition to a more organic understanding of nature as a “motherly” and immanent figure with all of the reservations that such a figure implies. These are some of the questions that we will explore, and the focus of our discussions will be to bring new voices in order to deconstruct the Eurocentric concept of “nature.”

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The World According to Ariyoshi Sawako

Open , Seminar—Fall

No previous background in Japanese studies or literature is required for this course.

In this seminar, we will read a variety of works by Ariyoshi Sawako (1931-1984), one of Japan’s most talented storytellers in the last century. Ariyoshi’s novels vividly portray the lives of women in different historical moments, such as the dancer Okuni, the originator of kabuki theatre, in Kabuki Dancer; the wife and mother of Hanako Seishu, the first surgeon to perform surgery using general anesthesia, in The Doctor’s Wife; and a mother, daughter, and granddaughter whose lives reflect changes in modern Japan in The River Ki. Many of Ariyoshi’s works also expose social issues, such as The Twilight Years, her immensely popular novel on the challenges of caring for aging parents, and Compound Pollution, her environmental novel that brought greater public attention to the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Early in her writing career, Ariyoshi received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and we will also consider how her experiences at Sarah Lawrence may have influenced the directions she took in her subsequent writing. Ariyoshi’s literature will provide us with a lens to consider various topics, such as Japanese performing arts, history, gender, social issues, and translation. In addition to these readings, we will view some film adaptations of Ariyoshi’s literary works.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Prerequisites: basic high-school algebra and plane-coordinate geometry

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, 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; 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. Given that this is a presidential election year, we will also be closely watching the national polls and discussing the difficulties of projecting future results with accuracy (and why pollsters got it wrong in 2016). Conference work, 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 graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Game Theory: The Study of Conflict and Strategy

Open , Lecture—Spring

Prerequisite: one-year each of high-school algebra and geometry

Warfare, elections, auctions, labor/management negotiations, inheritance disputes, even divorce—these and many other conflicts can be successfully understood and studied as games. A game, in the parlance of social scientists and mathematicians, is any situation involving two or more participants (players) capable of rationally choosing among a set of possible actions (strategies) that lead to some final result (outcome) of typically unequal value (payoff or utility) to the players. Game theory is the interdisciplinary study of conflict, whose primary goal is the answer to the single, simply-stated but surprisingly complex question: What is the best way to play? Although the principles of game theory have been widely applied throughout the social and natural sciences, their greatest impact has been felt in the fields of economics, political science, and biology. This course represents a survey of the basic techniques and principles in the field. Of primary interest will be the applications of the theory to real-world conflicts of historical or current interest.

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Mathematics in Theory and Practice: Probability, Risk Analysis, and Optimization

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: successful completion of two semesters of college-level calculus (or its equivalent)

What is chance, and how do we measure it? Do we measure the probability of winning the Mega Millions lottery in the same way that we assess the likelihood of a volcanic eruption in Hawaii? What tools are available to understand and measure uncertainty and risk? How can an understanding of probabilities better inform the decisions that we make in our personal and professional lives? How can we make the very best choice(s) amidst an enormous number of available options? How can individuals and businesses make critical decisions with confidence despite incomplete information and considerable uncertainty of future states? This calculus-based introduction to advanced probability theory, risk analysis, and operations research (optimization theory) engages these topics with an eye on diverse applications in the natural sciences, business, economics, and the social sciences. Topics of exploration will include the essential preliminaries of discrete mathematics (symbolic logic, proof technique, and set theory), combinatorial probabilities, distributions of prominent discrete and continuous random variables (Gaussian normal, binomial, Poisson, etc.), conditional probability and independence, joint distributions, expectation, variance, covariance, laws of large numbers, the Central Limit Theorem, Bayes Theorem, Markov chains, stochastic processes, linear programming and the powerful simplex method, sensitivity of optimized solutions to slight shifts in input parameters, duality theory, integer programming, nonlinear optimization, stochastic programming, and the four classic examples of optimization theory (the transportation/assignment problem, the network-flow problem, the diet problem, and the traveling-salesman problem). Using mathematical software, students will gain practical experience in the art of computer simulation and optimal solution identification.

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Art and Visual Perception

Open , Lecture—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 for students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

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Cognition Through the Lens of Neuropsychology

Open , Seminar—Fall

What would life be like if you grew up without a large chunk of brain tissue, your prefrontal cortex, located at the front of the brain? Or without, your amygdala, a structure buried deep in the brain? Rare cases, past and present, of patients with damage to these and other areas of the brain give us crucial insights into the ways in which specific parts of the brain support various aspects of cognition, from experiencing emotions to generating speech to making complex decisions. Neuropsychology is the specific field of study conducted in laboratory, clinical, and forensic settings that serves to deepen our understanding of how the brain forms the “stuff of thought.” This course will introduce students to the foundations of neuropsychology, starting with the historical arc of neuropsychology from Ancient Egypt to the present day, as a way to appreciate that a seemingly widely accepted concept—that the brain gives rise to behavior—was, and in some cultures and groups still is, the topic of many theoretical and philosophical debates. We will also survey the sub-branches of neuropsychology, including clinical neuropsychology (the study of patients with brain damage and illness, as described above), experimental neuropsychology (the study of similarities/variations in behavior among so-called “neurotypical” individuals), and comparative neuropsychology (studies across different species that inform our understanding of how the human brain works). Insights from patients with brain injuries and illnesses—including individuals studied by leading researchers and physicians in the field such as Paul Broca, Carl Wernike, Brenda Milner, Antonio Damasio, Oliver Sacks, Lesley Fellows, and others—have, by far, generated the clearest inroads to understanding how the brain works and will inform the largest part of the course material. Throughout the course, students will also explore experimental tools and methods that have been developed and are still being used today to plumb the depths of the brain’s functions.

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The Senses: Art and Science

Open , Seminar—Spring

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. In psychology and neuroscience, the investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for our 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 processes 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: the sense of balance, of body position (proprioception), 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 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? 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.

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Mindfulness: Science and Practice

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently, developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice, laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind. One of our two weekly meetings will be devoted to a mindful yoga practice.

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Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Previous coursework in biology and psychology is required, and a previous course in statistics is highly recommended.

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 mood (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 and how these responses are naturally regulated by the brain and body in a process called homeostasis. We will then 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 in human neuroimaging, as well as case 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 conference work, students will learn how to measure peripheral markers of arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses) and relate those signals to emotionally provocative events and brain activity.

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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 out 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 and 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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