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UE 141 - Discovery Seminar
"Nobel, Ig Nobel, and Everything in Between: Telling the Stories of Science, Medicine, and Technology"
Spring 2010
Th 2:00 - 2:50pm

Seminar Description

This year's Nobel Prize in Physics went to a pair of expatriate Russian researchers whose isolation and characterization of the exciting new super-substance graphene began with their lab's habitual Friday afternoon engagement with off-beat experiments: the decisive one that kicked off the research leading to the Nobel involved stripping away layers of graphite with Scotch tape. One of the two winners, Andre Geim, is also renowned for having magnetically levitated a frog (for which he won an "Ig Nobel Prize") and for listing his favorite hamster as a co-author on one of his published papers. Geim's story almost writes itself, but science journalists and historians of science regularly grapple with complicated concepts, contentious politics, and the bugbear of scientific uncertainty in translating science, medicine, and technology for the public and even for specialist readers. This seminar will explore a number of historical and recent episodes in scientific research, discerning through popular science writing, primary sources, and historical scholarship some crucial techniques for writing effectively about them, and culminating in students writing their own science stories on subjects of their own choosing.

Seminar Highlights

This seminar should appeal to students from many majors--from English to the hard sciences, from Exercise Science to Engineering--as students will have the opportunity to glimpse the cutting edge of their chosen future disciplines in broader contexts. Biography: Born and raised in the shadow of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, TN, I have always had a feeling that there is "beauty" in scientific ideas, and I developed early on a sustained interest in the social dynamics in and around scientific pursuits. I earned a B.S. in Chemistry and English from the University of Michigan, and an M.A. in Science Writing from Johns Hopkins. I am now Assistant Director of the Composition Program in the Department of English at UB, and I often teach a composition course under the theme of "Thinking about Thinking," encouraging students to use recent discoveries in cognitive science and psychology to understand and improve their thinking, reading, and writing processes. My research interests include the rhetoric of science and medicine, science and politics, the rhetoric of popular science (written texts and other media, such as television programs), and the intersections of science and literature. I have given conference papers on such topics as the use of polymers in restoring damaged works of art, Robert Frost's response to manned flight and the space race, Arthur Sze's "ecopoetics," Jorge Luis Borges’s interest in mathematical permutations, and the rhetorical strategies of various texts recounting the reception of Lynn Margulis's theory that cellular mitochondria were originally free-standing organisms.