Science & Technology Area Goals

GenEd Science & Technology courses present scientific process in context, helping students understand how scientific phenomena and/or technological change affects human life and the planet.

Science & Technology courses are intended to teach students how to:

  • Understand and describe the scientific process;
  • Understand the sequential nature of science and technology;
  • Recognize, use and appreciate scientific or technological thinking for solving problems that are part of everyday life;
  • Understand and communicate how technology encourages the process of discovery in science and related disciplines; and
  • Retrieve, organize, and analyze data associated with a scientific or technological model.


The Bionic Human

Can we replace our “worn-out” body parts with space-age materials? Will the day come when an injured athlete buys a tendon for the next big game? Why are your parents spending so much time at the doctor? We are on the verge of building “the bionic human” by repairing many of our body parts indefinitely. Become familiar with bio-engineered technologies for age-, disease-, sports-, and accident-related injuries. Learn why weight bearing exercise strengthens bones, the difference between MRI, CAT scan, and X-Ray, and what the folks at the Food and Drug Administration do. By the time you finish this course, you’ll know how a pig heart could save your life, how stem cell research could affect your future, the purpose of animal testing, and why walking through airport security could be a problem if you have had your hip replaced.

Brain Matters

One of the last frontiers in science is the brain. We know a great deal about the structure and function of the brain and nervous system, but it is challenging to comprehend fully the complexity of a system made up of 100 billion components that are interacting with one another using tens of trillions of connections that can change and rewire during development and aging. Neuroscience is the multidisciplinary field in which brain research falls. Neuroscience is one of the fastest growing domains in all of science – and good bet for a future career path. Neuroscientists investigate brain function from the level of molecular genetics, to cellular dynamics, to brain anatomy and physiology, to relations between brain, behavior, and cognition, to brain development and aging, to diseases of the brain. In this course, we will touch on knowledge about the brain at all these levels, and more. We will also discuss case studies of brain impairment.

Chemistry of Wine

Wine has occupied a central role in human culture since the beginning of recorded history. In our exploration of the science of wine we will learn why wine was the beverage of choice through the ages, why a bottle of wine can range from $2 to $2,000, how wine is made, what makes a good/bad wine, how is white different from red, and how do we know what is in a bottle of wine. The course begins with a large scale fermentation of red and white wine and will continue with team based analysis of the two month process of turning grape juice into wine.

Cyberspace and Society

Cyberspace technology empowers us to do more, but it also has a societal impact. It raises new questions regarding the use and misuse of information obtained from the Internet. For example, what is the impact of the Internet on intellectual property? How far can computer surveillance go to detect criminal behavior without reducing our civil liberties? How can vulnerable groups be protected from predators, scam artists, and identity theft? Does privacy even exist anymore? You will develop an understanding of the technologies behind the Internet, the web and your computer, and then use this knowledge to evaluate the social and ethical implications of this technology.

Data Science

We are all drowning in data, and so is your future employer. Data pour in from sources as diverse as social media, customer loyalty programs, weather stations, smartphones, and credit card purchases. How can you make sense of it all? Those that can turn raw data into insight will be tomorrow’s decision-makers; those that can solve problems and communicate using data will be tomorrow’s leaders. This course will teach you how to harness the power of data by mastering the ways it is stored, organized, and analyzed to enable better decisions. You will get hands-on experience by solving problems using a variety of powerful, computer-based data tools virtually every organization uses. You will also learn to make more impactful and persuasive presentations by learning the key principles of presenting data visually.

Digital World 2020

This course covers the fundamental principles of digital information capture, compression, storage, transmission, and management. The course intends to provide an overall view of the information infrastructure both at the implementation hardware and application software level suitable for non-engineering majors.

Disasters: Geology vs. Hollywood

Clips from Hollywood disaster movies will drive our inquiry into geologic phenomena. Can you really drive over a lava flow in a jeep? (Dante’s Peak) Are we foolish not to prepare for a major earthquake in New York City? (Aftershock) Could global warming melt the polar ice caps turning “dry land” into a myth? (Waterworld) Would the impact of an asteroid the “size of Texas” kill half the Earth by heat and freeze the remainder in a nuclear winter? (Armageddon) Learn the fundamentals of plate tectonics, how petrologic properties control volcanic explosivity, how to calculate earthquake locations from seismic data, and prepare a disaster readiness plan for a major U.S. city.

DNA: Friend or Foe?

BIOLOGY 0848, 0948
Through the study of basic biological concepts, expand your scientific knowledge and think critically about questions like: Are there potential discriminatory implications that might result from the human genome project? What are the future implications of genetic testing as behavioral genes become identified? What are the social and legal implications involving the gathering and analysis of DNA samples for forensic analysis and DNA fingerprinting? What implications might arise from genetic testing that may impact other members of that family? What are embryonic stem cells, and why has this topic become an important social and political issue? Will advances in medicine allow humans to live considerably longer, and how will a longer human life span affect life on earth?

The Environment

You can extend your longevity and improve your health by identifying and avoiding the top 10 environmental toxins that enter and persistently stay in your body. Develop connections between the environment and everyday life. Enhance your awareness of current environmental issues by taking part in discussion and debate: Is Global Warming for real? Should the US sign the Kyoto protocol? Are we running out of oil? Learn as you go on campus field trips, try hands-on experiments and hear presentations from experts on the energy crisis, global climate change, acid rain, ozone depletion, resource sustainability, biodiversity and the environmental impact of natural phenomenon. Sharpen your strategies and leave a better environment for future generations.

Ethical Issues in Biomedical Science, Engineering, and Technology

At some point in our lives, each of us will be confronted with difficult biomedical and biotechnological questions that present an ethical dilemma. This course is designed to enable you to critically address important issues in ethics that arise from advances in these fields. We will consider potential advantages of using modern technologies to improve human health, in contrast to the risks associated with their application. Some of the questions we will pose include: Is it acceptable to spend a lot of money on advanced technologies that will benefit only a few patients? Is it acceptable to use technology to restore our bodies to a pre-injury state? If so, what about using technology to enhance our bodies to improve our performance? What are the implications of the use of reproductive technology that results in one child having three biological parents? Can a physician text a picture of an X-ray to another colleague? These questions, and many others, will be explored in detail through class and small group discussions, coupled with analysis of current news events and scientific publications. Evidence-based approaches will be used to investigate issues related to a variety of subjects including use/overuse of imaging modalities, organ transplant, regenerative tissue engineering and medicine, human enhancements, genetic engineering, personalized medicine, reproductive control (e.g. IVF, surrogate pregnancy), cloning, stem cell use, medical privacy in the era of the electronic medical record, texting, and instagram, and animal testing for cosmetics, drugs, or medical devices.

Evolution and Extinctions

Did an asteroid impact wipe out the dinosaurs? Can “natural” Earth-based processes also cause mass extinctions? Long before the dinosaurs, another mass extinction destroyed 90 percent of life on Earth, without an impact. Should we be less worried about rocks from space, and more about “down to Earth” phenomena such as climate change, volcanism, or disease? Basic geologic principles and the fundamentals of evolutionary thought combine to bring to life the 4.6 billion year story of our planet and its creatures. Through hands-on experience with fossils and rocks, students investigate changes in life through time, and discover how to decipher past environments from the geologic record.

Exploring the Cosmos

This course will use the fascinating science surrounding the makeup, origin, and future of our Universe, to teach the methods by which scientists study nature. We will also explore
the (sometimes controversial) history of the subject, including the intersections of ethics and science as well as the role of different cultures. Scientific emphasis will always be on How?” and Why?”, as opposed to What?”. It is more important to understand how we know the mass and age of the Sun, than to know its actual mass and age. Why are we so sure the universe is expanding, and how does that tell us when the universe began? And, why are scientists convinced that it began in a Big Bang”? These are just a few of the many examples of topics covered in this course. Topical research in Astronomy and Cosmology will also be covered, in a way that helps students appreciate why the questions are so important. What are the prospects that life in some form exists elsewhere in the Solar System? Why did the apparent discovery of an accelerating universe” deserve a Nobel Prize? And, what was that all about in the news recently about inflation” during the Big Bang? Historical examples include heroic individual resistance to repressive authority (Galileo); flamboyant brilliance in the furtherance of radical scientific ideas (Einstein); the changing role of women in science (from Pickering’s Harem through Jocelyn Bell to Margaret Geller, Sally Ride, and Andrea Ghez); and the use of science in the service of politics.

Gender Issues in Science & Technology

Learn about science and technology through the lens of gender studies. As you are introduced to basic scientific principles and study the contributions of women to advances in science and technology, we will reflect on the many ways in which gender relations affect and have been affected by these advances. What contributions have women made to key aspects of science and technology? How do social spaces, such as Facebook and MySpace, facilitate changing gender identities and interactions? What are the gender implications of the digital divide? Through discussion, reading and with the guidance of guest speakers, we will gain insight into the gendered nature of science and technology and the effects on us all—men and women.

Green vs. Gray: Improving & Sustaining Urban Ecosystems

Explore urban ecology, urban ecological data gathering methods, and methods of improving and sustaining urban environments using Philadelphia as a living laboratory. With the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Tender training and tree planting program you will have active involvement and deepened understanding of the funding, planning, installation and maintenance of trees and other living green systems within the city landscape. You will meet with Philadelphia Zoo administrators and Mill Creek Urban Farm directors, and learn about park infrastructure, vacant lot revitalization and community gardens.

How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life

As you observe films, demonstrations and photographic techniques both real and computer-simulated, and as you perform several simple in-home experiments you will gain a basic understanding the laws of nature as they play out in everyday life. In a special project you will compare the science in different science fiction films.

Nature Has No Reverse

Rapid advances in modern science often tend to “conceal the forest in the trees,” but we all need enough familiarity with the “scientific method” to make informed judgments as citizens and voters. This course will take you on a journey through the history of science, with stops at the Second Law of  Thermodynamics, the “revolution” of fire, the rational basis of life, energy as the universal currency and changes in the universe around us. We will end with that most disturbing of paradoxes: the certainty of uncertainty. Each week includes both lecture and hands-on demonstration/practicum.

Powering the Future

PHYSICS 0839, 0939
How can we provide inexpensive, safe, environmentally clean energy supplies for the United States and the world as a whole despite rising population and increasing affluence? Study problems of our conventional fossil and nuclear fuel use, and how they might be relieved; explore the physical and technological possibilities for using energy much more efficiently; investigate various renewable-energy sources (such as solar, hydrogen cells, hydropower, and biofuels) that significantly reduce effects on the environment. In the course lab projects, you will research and develop a sustainable energy proposal for your own home, campus, or community.

The Science of Sound

For living things the ability to hear sounds is an essential tool for survival, and sound is central to speech and languages. In the arts sound also plays a fundamental role, above all in music. The close connection between music, mathematics, and physics has fascinated some of the greatest minds in mathematics and science. Advances in electronics and computing are revolutionizing the composition, production, recording, and transmission of sound. In this interdisciplinary course, you will study elements of physics, physiology, psychology, music, and engineering. The course begins with a four-week introduction to the fundamental physics of sound waves. With this as a basis, we then consider human hearing, the human voice, and speech sounds; scales, harmony, and sound production by musical instruments; architectural acoustics; and the electronic reproduction of sound. The course includes many in-class demonstrations and experiments and occasional short musical performances.

Sustainable Design

What’s the big deal about global warming and how should we respond to it? Explore the issues and underlying causes. See how contemporary designers from Germany, Netherlands, UK and Japan are responding to scientific knowledge with sustainable designs for buildings, cars, towns and parks. Develop your own creative project to reduce the greenhouse effect. Have you ever wondered about what happens to local abandoned factories and degraded streams and rivers? Philadelphia is a national hotbed for sustainable design. Visit local restoration sites, modern “green” buildings, parks that reclaim waste water and transformed industrial parks to see firsthand what is happening in our area. Learn how design is transforming to propel us toward a low waste, energy conserving society in the 21st century.

Sustainable Environments

Americans account for over a quarter of all fossil fuel consumption, own more cars than there are licensed drivers, and build new homes 40 percent larger than they did in 1975, despite shrinking household size. We feel for the pandas and polar bears, while contributing mightily to global climate change, resource inequity, and ecosystem destruction. How do we reckon with environmental crises at multiple scales, from the neighborhood to the atmosphere and oceans? “Think globally, act locally” environmentalists admonish us! Direct our vast human ingenuity and collective spirit toward technologies and behaviors that bring peace with the planet. Course mission: enhance your capability to make informed choices, based on a sound understanding of the ecological, technological, economic, political, and ethical dimensions of environmental sustainability.

Tech Transformations

Expand your knowledge by looking at how various technologies such as electricity, automobiles, airplanes, telephones, bridges, highways, electronics, computers, and information technology have transformed the world around us. What would we do without them? Where do they come from? How do they work? Technology is developed by people who have the ideas, design the machines and processes, and suffer the costs and benefits of technological changes in our society. Learn about science and technology through history of discovery, invention and innovation through lectures and labs. We will also study several promising fields, which may lead us to the future of technology.