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. Each of these open-level, semester-long courses have an accompanying lab component. Students may enroll in any number of the General Biology courses during their time at Sarah Lawrence and in any order, although it is strongly recommended that students begin with General Biology: Genes, Cells, and Evolution in the fall semester. Completion of any two General Biology 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 2024-2025 Courses

General Biology: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

BIOL 2014

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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Forensic Biology

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

BIOL 2016

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 Amanda Knox, the Golden State Killer, and other real-life courtroom 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 it 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 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 genealogical and 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 Supreme Court rulings, including the 2013 decision, Maryland v. King, that 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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Evolutionary Biology

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

BIOL 2030

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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Conservation Science and Practice: An Introduction

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

BIOL 3805

Welcome to an exploratory journey into the heart of conservation science and practice. This course is designed to introduce students to the foundational concepts, critical thinking, methodologies, and ecological principles essential to conservation science, as we foster a profound respect for all forms of life and the ecosystems they inhabit. Through a non-anthropocentric lens, we will interrogate various conservation paradigms and explore innovative strategies that prioritize the intrinsic value of nature. Students will develop critical-thinking skills to evaluate conservation strategies and practices, recognizing the complex interdependencies between humans and the natural world. This course combines “soft” lectures, interactive discussions, case study analyses, and hands-on projects to provide a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Students will gain knowledge of practical methods and tools used in conservation science, including fieldwork techniques, data analyses, policy assessment, and ecological models. Students are encouraged to critically engage with the material, participate in debates on controversial topics, and collaborate on projects that propose innovative solutions to real-world conservation challenges. This course is ideal for undergraduates with a general interest in conservation and those interested in environmental science, biology, ecology, and related fields, who seek a deeper understanding of conservation science and are open to challenging traditional viewpoints to explore more inclusive and ethical approaches to conserving our planet.

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Neurological Disorders

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

BIOL 3214

Disorders of the brain are often devastating. They can disrupt fundamental characteristics of life, such as memory formation and retrieval, the ability to communicate, the foundations of a personality, and the 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; how symptoms of the disorders can be understood by studying changes in the neural tissues, cells, and molecules associated with each disorder; and what is known about genetic or environmental underpinnings and current treatments. Readings will be drawn primarily from the writings of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, and the science journalist and Parkinson’s patient Jon Palfreman, in addition to magazine articles, scientific studies, and relevant films that complement and expand upon their descriptions of brain function.

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Intermediate Ethology: Applications and Research in Animal Behavior

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

BIOL 3414

Prerequisite: animal behavior course or equivalent

Building on the foundational knowledge acquired in an introductory animal behavior course, Intermediate Ethology delves deeper into the theoretical frameworks and empirical research that define the field. This course is designed to enhance students' understanding of ethological principles and their practical applications in addressing real-world challenges concerning animal care and well-being. We begin with a comprehensive review of essential ethological theories to develop a solid grasp of key concepts, such as innate behaviors, learning, social structures, communication, and evolutionary perspectives on animal behavior. A significant focus will be on the diverse research methods used in ethology, including observational studies, experimental designs, and the use of technology in behavioral research. Students will learn how these methodologies can be applied to study animals in various environments—from the captive to the wild. The course explores the application of animal behavior knowledge in practical settings, addressing the needs of farmed animals, companion animals, animals in research settings, and wildlife. Topics include behavior-based approaches to enhancing animal well-being, designing enriching environments, and strategies for conservation and management of wild populations. Through detailed case studies, students will examine complex behaviors in different species, understanding how ethological principles provide insights into animal well-being and behavior. These case studies will cover a range of scenarios—for example, from social behavior in wolves to cognitive abilities in octopuses—illustrating the applicability of behavioral science in diverse contexts. Students will engage in a close reading of contemporary scientific literature, critically analyzing studies to understand research designs, findings, and the evolution of ethological knowledge. A centerpiece of the course is a semester-long, hypothesis-driven behavioral observation study conducted by each student. This project encourages students to apply learned methodologies to a context of interest, culminating in a research paper that contributes to their understanding of animal behavior. This course is ideal for undergraduate students who have completed an introductory course in animal behavior, biology, or a related field and are interested in advancing their knowledge and research skills in ethology. It is particularly suited for those considering careers in animal behavior, veterinary sciences, wildlife conservation, or academic research.

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Research Methods in Microbial Ecology

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

BIOL 3625

Prerequisite: General Biology: Genes, Cells, and Evolution or Genetics

How many different species of fungi can live in tiny plant seeds? How many species of bacteria can live in a drop of river water? You may be surprised to learn that that number is actually quite large. The amount of biodiversity in the microbial world is vast but, until recently, peering into this “black box” has been extremely difficult. With the advent of high-throughput DNA sequencing methods, it is now far easier to characterize this cryptic diversity. In this course, students will participate in two ongoing research projects. The first explores the hidden fungal diversity in plant seeds and determines if and how those fungal communities shift in response to landscape fragmentation. The second involves screening bacterial communities in water samples from local rivers for potential human pathogens. Students will learn about current methods to characterize microbial communities, including both high-throughput DNA sequencing and bioinformatics techniques. The course will involve extensive data analyses, including processing of amplicon sequencing data to identify organisms, as well as statistical analyses to explore how the structure of microbial communities changes in response to environmental factors. Students who wish to enroll in this course should have previous laboratory experience in biology and a willingness to learn command-line programming.

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Human-Wildlife Interactions: Analysis, Management, and Resolution

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

BIOL 3230

This course delves into the intricate dynamics of human-wildlife interactions, focusing on both the real and perceived conflicts that arise when human and wildlife habitats overlap. This course provides an in-depth analysis of wildlife management practices, the resilience of wildlife populations to traditional control methods, and the ethical considerations in human-wild animal relationships and in wildlife management. The course begins with an overview of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) in order to understand the causes, types, and consequences of these interactions. This sets the groundwork for exploring the complexities of coexistence between humans and wildlife. The course will cover a range of management strategies used to mitigate HWC, including nonlethal and lethal control methods, habitat modification, and the use of technology in wildlife monitoring and management. Discussions will critically assess the effectiveness, sustainability, and ethicality of these approaches. A significant component of the curriculum is dedicated to the ethical considerations in wildlife management, including animal well-being, conservation ethics, and the role of humans in shaping wildlife populations. A core element of this course is a collaborative project with a community partner (TBD) to assess ongoing human-wildlife conflicts in the region. This hands-on project includes: fieldwork to collect data on specific conflict scenarios, such as wildlife damage to agriculture, urban wildlife issues, or the impact of non-native species; data analysis to understand the patterns, scale, and implications of these conflicts; and development of management or mitigation strategies based on scientific evidence and ethical considerations. This course is particularly beneficial for those students seeking to understand the challenges and opportunities in positively facilitating human-wildlife interactions and those aspiring to careers in wild-animal protection, conservation, environmental management, or academic research.

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Anatomy and Physiology

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

BIOL 3012

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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Disease Ecology

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

BIOL 3607

Prerequisite: General Biology: Genes, Cells, and Evolution or Viruses and Pandemics

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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Advanced Cell Biology: Regulation of Cell Function

Advanced, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

BIOL 4025

Prerequisite: Genetics, Cell Biology, or equivalent course

The wide variety of ways that different cells can respond to changes in their environment results from differences in the timing and level of expression of various gene and proteins, which collectively are responsible for modulating differences in cellular activity. Much of the regulation of gene function occurs at the level of DNA activity (transcription); and, indeed, it has been estimated that 10 percent of all human genes encode transcription factors responsible for this level of regulation. Because of the complexity of the cell and its critical need to maintain normal cellular function in a variety of environments, however, multiple mechanisms in addition to transcription-factor activity have evolved to modify and control cell activity. A fundamental goal in biology, therefore, is to understand this assortment of molecular mechanisms used by cells to regulate gene expression and subsequent cell function. 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 these regulatory mechanisms to the detriment of the cell. No textbooks are used in this course; instead, all topics and readings are drawn from recently published, peer-reviewed, scientific articles.

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General Chemistry I

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This 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 instance, 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 in 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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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

Open, 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 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. Each week, you will attend two 90-minute lectures, a 55-minute group conference, and a three-hour laboratory session.

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The Chemistry of Everyday Life

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course examines the chemistry of our everyday life—the way things work. The emphasis of this course is on understanding the everyday use of chemistry. We will introduce chemistry concepts with everyday examples, such as household chemicals and gasoline, that show how we already use chemistry and reveal why chemistry is important to us. We will concentrate on topics of current interest such as environmental pollution and the substances that we use in our daily lives that affect our environment and us.

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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. Each week, you will attend two 90-minute lectures, a 55-minute group conference, and a three-hour laboratory session.

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Biochemistry

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Biochemistry is the chemistry of biological systems. This course will introduce students to the important principles and concepts of biochemistry. Topics will include the structure and function of biomolecules such as amino acids, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids, RNA, DNA, and bioenergetics. This knowledge will then be used to study the pathways of metabolism.

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Workshop on Sustainability Solutions at Sarah Lawrence College

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

As we want to engage in individual and collective efforts toward sustainable and climate-change mitigating solutions, this workshop offers an opportunity for students to explore the multiple ways in which “sustainability” can be fostered and developed at an institution like Sarah Lawrence College. Students will work in small groups on a variety of projects and produce research and educational material that can lead to concrete and actionable proposals for the College and our community to consider. Students will determine their own areas of interest and research, from energy and water-usage monitoring to composting solutions, recycling/reusing and consumer sobriety, landscaping choices, pollinators and natural diversity, food growing, natural and human history of the land, and community collaborations, to name a few. As part of their project effort, students will engage with College administrators who are actively working toward sustainable solutions, as well as student, staff, and faculty groups such as the Warren Green vegetable garden, the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collective on the Environment (SLICE), and the Sustainability Committee. We will also explore the possibility of writing grants in coordination with other actors at the College. This workshop will meet once a week for one hour. It is offered as pass/fail based on attendance and a group project that will mostly be developed during our meeting time. It is open to all students, including first-year students. All skills and areas of expertise are welcome, from environmental science to writing and visual and studio arts—but any interest in issues of sustainability and a strong sense of dedication will suffice!

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Calculus II: Further Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Fall

Calculus is the mathematical gift that keeps giving. (Thanks Newton and company!) In this class, you will expand your knowledge of limits, derivatives, and integrals with concepts and techniques that will enable you to solve many important problems in mathematics and the sciences. You will be able to judge whether answers provided by WolframAlpha or ChatGPT are correct. Topics will include: differentiation review, integration review, integration with nonpolynomial functions, applications of integration (finding area, volume, length, center of mass, moment of inertia, probability), advanced techniques for integration (substitution, integration-by-parts, partial fractions), infinite sequences, infinite series, convergent and divergent sums, power series, and, time permitting, parametric equations of a curve and polar coordinates. Students will work on a conference project related to the mathematical topics covered in class and are free to choose technical, historical, crafty, computational, or creative projects. It is recommended that students have at least one semester of calculus at either college or high-school level or be very comfortable with quickly learning any missing material.

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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.

Calculus I: The Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Fall

Our existence lies in a perpetual state of change. An apple falls from a tree; clouds move across expansive farmland, blocking out the sun for days; meanwhile, satellites zip around the Earth transmitting and receiving signals to our cell phones. The calculus was invented to develop a language to accurately describe the motion and change happening all around us. The ancient Greeks began a detailed study of change but were scared to wrestle with the infinite, and so it was not until the 17th century that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, among others, tamed the infinite and gave birth to this extremely successful branch of mathematics. Though just a few hundred years old, the calculus has become an indispensable research tool in both the natural and social sciences. Our study begins with the central concept of the limit and proceeds to explore the dual processes of differentiation and integration. Numerous applications of the theory will be examined. 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 sciences, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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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? How are they used? 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 many 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. Enrolled students are expected to have an understanding of basic high-school algebra and plane coordinate geometry.

Faculty

Calculus II: Further Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Spring

Calculus is the mathematical gift that keeps giving. (Thanks Newton and company!) In this class, you will expand your knowledge of limits, derivatives, and integrals with concepts and techniques that will enable you to solve many important problems in mathematics and the sciences. You will be able to judge whether answers provided by WolframAlpha or ChatGPT are correct. Topics will include: differentiation review, integration review, integration with nonpolynomial functions, applications of integration (finding area, volume, length, center of mass, moment of inertia, probability), advanced techniques for integration (substitution, integration-by-parts, partial fractions), infinite sequences, infinite series, convergent and divergent sums, power series, and, time permitting, parametric equations of a curve and polar coordinates. Students will work on a conference project related to the mathematical topics covered in class and are free to choose technical, historical, crafty, computational, or creative projects. It is recommended that students have at least one semester of calculus at either college or high-school level or be very comfortable with quickly learning any missing material.

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General Physics I (Classical Mechanics)

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

General physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in physical science, engineering, or the health fields. Lectures will be accessible at all levels, and through group conference you will have the option of either taking an algebra-based or calculus-based course. 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, through problem solving, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings. Students enrolling in the calculus-based section are encouraged to have completed at least one semester of calculus as a prerequisite. It is strongly recommended that students who still need to complete a second semester of calculus enroll in Calculus II, as well. Calculus II, or equivalent, is highly recommended to take the calculus-based section of General Physics II (Electromagnetism and Light) in the spring.

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General Physics II (Electromagnetism and Light)

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

General physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in physical science, engineering, or the health fields. Lectures will be accessible at all levels, and through group conference you will have the option of either taking an algebra-based or calculus-based course. 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, through problem solving, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings. Students enrolling in the calculus-based section are encouraged to have completed Calculus II as a prerequisite. It is highly recommended to have taken the first semester of General Physics I in the fall prior to enrolling in this course.

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Chaos

Open, Seminar—Spring

Learn to appreciate the complex order that can be found in chaos! This course introduces the beautiful world of nonlinear and chaotic dynamics and also provides the mathematical and numerical tools to explore the astounding patterns that can arise from these inherently unpredictable systems. We shall see how chaos emerges from fairly simple nonlinear dynamical systems; utilize numerical methods to simulate the dynamics of chaotic systems; and explore characteristics of chaos using iterated maps, bifurcation diagrams, phase space, Poincaré sections, Lyapunov exponents, and fractal dimensions. Class time will oscillate between the presentation of new material and workshops for hands-on exploration. Students are encouraged to build and/or analyze their own chaotic system as potential conference projects. No previous programming experience is required, and all relevant mathematical concepts will be introduced.

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First-Year Studies: Emotions and Decisions

FYS—Year

Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it. —Baruch Spinoza, Ethics

What should I wear today? How should I respond to this text? Where should I apply to college? Every decision we make, big or small, is influenced by our emotions—at times without our explicit knowledge or conscious awareness of their influence. We can certainly appreciate how this might be the case in our own lived experiences, from the joys of picking a fun outfit to the anxiety of making a life-changing decision. Up until recently, however, the fields of psychology, economics, and neuroscience paid little attention to—and, in some cases, outright rejected—the empirical (evidence-based) study of how emotions affect our decisions. In this FYS seminar, we will explore the essential role that emotions play in our lives and their strong interplay with our decisions. During the fall semester, we will read and analyze works in psychology, behavioral economics, literature, philosophy, and popular media to examine how scholars in psychology and other disciplines have attempted to define and study something as subjective as emotions. Examples include works by William James, Paul Ekman, Lisa Feldman-Barrett, Daniel Kahneman, and others. We will also explore the role of emotions as the decision-making process unfolds. We will embed those processes in a variety of contexts, including personal, social, forensic, financial, and political realms. In the spring, we will revisit and build on these concepts by pinpointing the areas of the brain that are involved in generating, expressing, and regulating emotions and making decisions. No prior knowledge of psychology or neuroscience is required. This course may appeal to students who are curious about the mind and brain, as well as to those who wish to deepen their storytelling and character development in creative writing and filmmaking. Students will meet in biweekly conferences with the instructor to develop independent projects and biweekly small-group collaboratives with their peers to engage in creative group activities, applied workshops, book/journal clubs, film screenings, guest lectures, hands-on labs, and field trips.

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The Origins of Language: Animals, Babies, and Machines

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Why is linguistic communication so important to us? Do other primates have language? How do humans understand messages from one another despite uncertainty, distraction, and ever-changing environments? In this course, we will consider central questions about language: Are we the only ones who have it? When did we learn it? What does artificial intelligence (AI) like ChatGPT actually learn? And what exactly is the point of so-called “small talk”? In this course, we will start with an introduction to comparative research with animals, allowing us to consider other forms of communication. Next, we’ll turn to our own species, examining what findings from studies with babies and children can tell us about the nature and goals of communication. Finally, we’ll confront the artificial elephant in the room: neural networks. What kind of language have they learned, and how can we study it? In class, we will discuss the advances and consequences of AI. Students should come prepared to engage with the topic of communication from multiple perspectives. Through small-group conferences each week, students will develop projects that relate the course to their collective interests, such as learning and communicating in Toki Pona (a philosophical artistic-constructed language), researching the limits of AI language models, observing and analyzing children’s communication, or designing a behavioral intervention study that implements different communication practices for their peers.

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Finding Happiness and Keeping It: Insights From Psychology and Neuroscience

Open, Lecture—Fall

We must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. —William James, 1887, Habit

We all want happy lives filled with meaning and satisfaction. Yet, for many of us, happiness can be difficult to obtain with regularity or to sustain over a long period of time. Happiness is more than a feeling; rather, it is a state of well-being that should last a lifetime. Like exercising to improve physical health, it takes sustained cognitive effort to improve our mental health and engage in practices to promote well-being. We can look to evidence from the fields of psychology and neuroscience that tells us that we are mentally unprepared to: (1) predict what will make us happy, and (2) engage in behaviors that are known to make us happier. In this course, we will cover the psychological and brain-based factors for why happiness feels so fleeting and what we can do to build better and more effective habits that have been shown to lead to longer-term maintenance of a positive mood and well-being. Students will read foundational work in the field of positive psychology by Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Edward Diener, Daniel Kahneman, and others. We will also discuss studies in neuroscience that show how behavioral interventions in positive psychology can impact the brain’s structure and function—just like building stronger muscles during exercise. Through small-group conferences, students will apply evidence-based practices, such as bringing order and organization to their daily lives, expressing gratitude, and building social bonds (i.e., “cross training” for the mind) in activities called “Rewirements.” For the final project, called “Unlearning Yourself,” students will learn to undo or replace a detrimental habit (e.g., overspending, social-media use, poor sleep hygiene, complaining, procrastinating) by establishing a plan to cultivate evidence-based practices for sustained well-being. By the end of this course, students will have gained the ability to sift through the ever-booming literature on positive psychology and neuroscience to identify the practices that work best for them, along with an appreciation for the notion that finding and keeping happiness and well-being requires intentional practice and maintenance. Students should come prepared to engage in meaningful self-work.

Faculty

A Film Historian, a Psychologist, and an Artist Walk Into a Class: Laughter Across Disciplines

Open, Lecture—Spring

Why is the topic of laughter so often siloed or scorned in discussions of high art, literature, and the sciences? Why don’t we take laughter seriously as a society? How many professors does it take to teach a course on laughter? (Two more than usual...) In this lecture-seminar, students will develop a highly interdisciplinary understanding of laughter as a human behavior, cultural practice, and wide-ranging tool for creative expression. Based on the expertise of the three professors, lectures will primarily investigate laughter through the lens of psychology, film history, and visual arts. The goal of the course is to think and play across many disciplines. For class assignments, students may be asked to conduct scientific studies of audience laughter patterns, create works of art with punchlines, or write close analyses of classic cinematic gags. Over the course of the semester, we will examine the building blocks of laughter; classic devices of modern comedy; and laughter as a force of resilience, resistance, and regeneration. Topics to be discussed include the evolutionary roots of laughter as a behavior; the psychological substrates of laughter as a mode of emotional and self-regulation; humor in Dada, surrealism, performance art, and stand-up comedy; jokes and the unconscious; comic entanglements of modern bodies and machines; hysterical audiences of early cinema; and how to read funny faces, word play, spit takes, toilet humor, and sound gags.

Faculty

Mindfulness: Science and Practice

Sophomore and Above, 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 and body. An important component of the course is the personal cultivation of a mindfulness practice; to support this goal, one of the two weekly course meetings will be devoted to a mindful movement practice.

Faculty