Category Archives: Daily Guides

Day 18: “Calorie Man” – GMOs, IP, and Dystopia

In our last class of the summer session, we will discuss Paolo Bacigalupi’s short story “Calorie Man.”  Set in Bacigalupi’s award-winning WindUp universe, “Calorie Man” focuses our attention on the ethics of genetically modified organisms and intellectual property rights.  In a world where the main focus of the police is to protect corporations from piracy, geneticists can be deemed enemies of the state and terrorists for trying to feed people.   We will use this literature as an entry point into a discussion of the Green Revolution, GMOs, and gene patenting.


  • Study for the final exam
  • Finish your personal essay
  • Review the course on

Day 17: Climate Change

Having watched one of Naomi Oreskes’ presentation on the Merchants of Doubt students will discuss the history of climate change theory.  We will start with a brief timeline of scientific research on climate change.  Then we will work in groups to study the greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide based on Spencer Weart’s digital version of The Discovery of Global Warming.  We will close with a discussion of technological efforts at climate engineering.  Students will discuss James Fleming’s Chemical Heritage article, “Manufacturing the Weather.”


  1. In Bacigalupi’s WindUp world, food is measured in calories and energy in joules bound up in springs. In what ways does reducing these staples to homogenized, commensurable numbers symbolize a dystopian future.
  2. How is science to blame for the dystopia?
  3. How different is this dystopian future from our modern reality?


Day 16: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Today we will be discussing Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and its impact on the use of pesticides in America.  We will start by looking at some of the background history of DDT from the 1940s and 50s.  We will then discuss Carson’s biography, her book, and her legacy.


Day 15: Nuclear Proliferation and Arms Treaties

In 1943, Winston Churchill had said, “as for any post-war problems there are none that cannot be amicably settled between me and my friend President Roosevelt.”  Whether that was arrogance or naivety, history would prove him sadly mistaken.   After Russia tested their first atomic bomb in 1949, the arms race was on between the two Super Powers and a wave of atomic tests that both astonishes and terrifies the modern viewer began:

We will discuss nuclear testing, arms limitation negotiations, nuclear proliferation, and modern advances in uranium enrichment.


Day 14: Fat Man & Little Boy / MAGIC & Necessity

Having discussed the logistics and design behind the first two nuclear bombs (the only two ever used in war), today we will ask the question of whether or not the bombings were justified / necessary.  First the last student group will present Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain to remind us that the casualties of the bombs extended well beyond those that were killed and discuss the ethics of civilian bombing.

Then, drawing heavily from the declassified MAGIC documents, I will argue that the struggle to end the War with Japan was not necessarily a decision between using the bombs or invading the mainland as it is often portrayed, but rather between using the bomb and diplomatic solutions.


  • Read J.G. Ballard’s “The Terminal Beach”
  • Answer the following questions in the comments in about a paragraph: Why did Ballard set his psychological exploration on a Pacific Island nuclear test site?  What does the site symbolize / allow him to explore?  How are the nuclear test and Traven’s depression connected?
  • Read the other students’ answers.  This is a multi-faceted story, so multiple perspectives will likely be needed for a full perspective.

Day 13: The Manhattan Paradigm

Having read Jim Ottiavani’s Fallout, students will be prepared to discuss the Manhattan Project.  A turning point in the size and shape of modern physics, the Manhattan Project produced the first nuclear bombs and set the paradigm for nuclear proliferation throughout the 20th century.  We will discuss the various possible technologies for Uranium enrichment, Plutonium production, and the basics concepts behind the first two nuclear bombs.


  • Read Ibuse’s Black Rain and be prepared for a quiz
  • Watch Radio Bikini, Atomic Cafe, and Copenhagen.  Radio Bikini is currently available on Netflix.  The Atomic Cafe can be rented or bought through Amazon Instant Video.  All three videos are currently available on YouTube.
  • There is no class on Thursday.  This is to allow you to watch these videos, finish reading Black Rain, and reflect on the epic struggle between the United States and Germany.

Day 12: What is an Atom?

From billiard balls and plum puddings to solar systems and quantum mechanics, we race through the various modern conceptions of the atom.  We will go into some depth on Marie Curie’s work on radioactivity and the work of Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen group on Quantum Mechanics.

In our discussion we will grapple with some of the physical concepts and philosophy behind Quantum Mechanics.


  • Read Jim Ottiavani’s Fallout.  There is a copy in the History of Science Collections (5th floor of the library) if yours has not yet come in.  There will be a quiz over the reading, so talk to me if you can’t figure out how to get a copy.

Day 11: Einstein and Picasso

Drawing from Arthur Miller’s book, Einstein and Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty that Causes Havoc we will look at the connections between cubism and relativity.  If, as we have discussed throughout the course, literature gives us a lens for societal understandings of science, today’s discussion will show that art can do the same.

In our discussion, we will look at the artwork of Chesley Bonestell, Tom Sachs, Rebecca Kamen, and others to see how culture and science have continued their dialogue from the 1970s to today.


  • Go out onto the web and see if you can find another example of scientific art.  Post the link and a short description in the comments.
  • Go through the links provided by the rest of the class, pick one of the artistic works as your favorite, and reply to that comment saying why you liked the link art.

Day 10: Classical Physics, Telegraphy, and the Engine

We start today with the first midterm!! Now’s your chance to show what you’ve got, do your mental gymnastics, rule the roost, and all of those other good things.

After everyone closes their (blue)books on the first half of the class, we will turn the page over to the second act.  Today, the lecture will cover telegraphy and the steam engine.  We will work our way into classical and modern physics as we investigate the relationship between science and technology.  We often hear that scientific discoveries lead to technological advances that make life easier, but both of these technologies asked new questions leading to advances in electro-magnetics and thermodynamics.



Day 9: The Plasticity of Man

In the aftermath of Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man, the debate over the nature of man heated up.  If man is just another animal, what difference is there between man and the animals.  HG Wells addressed this question with his book The Island of Doctor Moreau.  If the flesh, mind, and lineage of animals can all be manipulated, can they be artificially evolved into humans.

Wells also used the book to weigh in on vivisection and the experimental medicine of Claude Bernard.  While it would be hard to take a positive message about vivisection from the book, Wells was personally ambivalent on the subject and the book reiterates much of his non-fiction defense of the practice.

After our group presentation and discussion of the book, we will turn our attention to so-called Social Darwinism.  Sociocultural evolution was a product of exploration and eighteenth-century rationalization. The appropriation of evolutionary theory to social, cultural, and economic issues provided a rich vein of metaphor and rhetoric.  Sociocultural evolution, a narrative of unilineal social progress, used both Darwinian and Lamarckian ideas to justify a ladder of social types.  Imperially minded Europeans used this narrative to brush aside indigenous people during a period of rapid colonization.  Our lecture for the day will present Social Darwinism from its Enlightenment roots through to the eugenics of World War II.


  • Study for the first test