The following natural science courses are part of the elective offerings of Liberal Studies and fulfill the Biological Science and Physical Science requirements of the GLS degree.
Students learn about modern environmental science in the context of contemporary global issues, exploring the impact that the decisions of nations and individuals have on local and world ecologies. The course emphasizes the science involved in environmental decisions while also examining the role of ethics, politics, and economics in environmental decisions at both personal and governmental levels. Students examine such topics as ecology and biodiversity, including the nature and effects of succession, evolution, and invasion species; the atmosphere, including air pollution, ozone depletion, and climate change; sources, use, and misuse of water resources; human population and feeding the world’s people, including developments in agriculture and genetic modifications of organisms; and the nature of Earth’s energy resources and their use by humankind.
History of the Universe
History of the Universe examines the nature of science as a way of looking at the world and study that world as revealed through the work of scientists over the years. They learn about the nature of matter and energy and how the universe has evolved. Topics include the origin and development of the stars, galaxies, planetary systems, and the universe itself, as well as study of the Earth and the development of life on Earth and its potential to exist elsewhere in the universe. The course begins with the development of scientific thought at multiple locations around the pre-modern world by reference to Babylonian and Chinese astronomy, Indian numerical systems, and the work of such scientists as Aristotle, Ptolemy, Al-Sufi, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. It continues with discoveries by the likes of Newton, Darwin, Curie, Einstein, and Hubble during the period of Western scientific hegemony and ends with the multinational world of present-day science. Students acquire an understanding not only of modern science but also of its development and of the methods, strengths, and limitations of the scientific method.
Life Science examines fundamental principles and processes of biological science. The theme of evolution is woven throughout the course. Topics include genetics, cancer, cell biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, and bioethics, with special emphasis on the human species. Many of the topics are discussed within a social and historical context, demonstrating the global nature of scientific problems and scientific process. Selected readings from science journals, newspaper articles, and recent books expose students to the relevance and application of scientific work to their everyday lives, focusing particularly on genetic disease, the function and treatment of HIV infection, and other current important frontiers and ethical issues in the discipline. The course also acquaints students with the historical development of life science by reference to key figures from Galen to Averroës to Mendel and Darwin.
Living in the Anthropocene
(GLS students only) With recent population growth and substantive consumption, our species has impacted the Earth to such an unprecedented extent that a new geologic time period has been proposed: the Anthropocene, or Age of Humans. This class investigates related physical (geological and geographical), chemical, and biological processes through global and local lenses, and over deep time. The diversification of life and the five past mass extinctions are explored in-depth, after which modern topics of conservation concern such as climate change and biodiversity loss are focused on.
Ultimately the class addresses the following questions: “Are we in the 6th Mass Extinction?”, and “Are we in a new geologic time, the Anthropocene?” Students attend and write about events throughout New York City related to critical environmental issues, including field trips to local conservation projects, talks and screenings, and other local institutions or events that highlight the topics covered in the course. Connections of course topics to juniors’ global sites of study are emphasized to cover historical biogeography, biodiversity, and climate change in an increasingly human-dominated world.
Course topics are explored through a mix of short lectures and active learning techniques. “Active Learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work” (Freeman et al., 2014, p. 8413-8414). These tools build critical thinking skills, ground students in the research process, improve learning performance, reduce failure rates, and stand in contrast to passive and uninspired learning experiences. Examples of active learning tools include case studies, field trips, activities, exercises, documentaries, discussion, and debate. Although they are not a panacea and may result in less content coverage, these techniques can create a sense of fun and excitement in the classroom.
Science of Technology
Science of Technology follows the intertwined histories of science, technology, and society, focusing mainly on the technology of communication from the earliest means of communicating across space and time to present forms of communication. Students investigate the science behind the technology by engaging in inquiry-based group activities and group projects that illustrate the scientific method and the role of experimentation in producing scientific results. The course also looks at the impact technology has had on societies, and the way the structure and values of different societies have conditioned how technologies are actually used. Student research projects investigate the basic science, history, and impact of technologies in other fields such as energy, medicine, or transportation.