Courses

Bennington offers a broad, flexible curriculum in science and mathematics.  Course offerings evolve in response to student interests and current work and interests of faculty members.  Every term there will be opportunities across the disciplines for both advanced study — often in the context of small seminar-like classes and individual research projects — and for exploration of new arenas and disciplines.

Links here will take you to syllabi and web-sites for a sampling of current and recent courses.  The complete catalogue will  look a bit different each year; some courses are offered every year, some more occasionally, some are unique.  Individual faculty web-sites and the College’s website also list courses we offer or have offered.

CURRENT (FALL 2012)

Evolution (BIO4104), Kerry Woods

An intensive study of the mechanisms of biological evolution — the body of understanding that allows us to understand why life is as it is. This course explores current evolutionary theory and research at an advanced level. Webpage for Fall 2012.

Women and Men: the Biology of the SexesElizabeth Sherman

Biological bases of variation in gender identity, sexual orientation, and mating behavior among humans. Webpage for Fall 2012

Comparative Animal Physiology, Elizabeth Sherman

A rigorous course in which physiological processes of vertebrates and invertebrates are studied at the cellular, organ, organ system, and whole animal levels of organization. Webpage for Fall 2012

Computing EcologyAndrew Cencini

An introduction to the environmental impact of computing – in particular, examining data center and personal computing power consumption, as well as physical waste generated by computing.  Physical computing, as well as introductory programming skills are also taught as ways of contextualizing and further investigating the subject matter.  Webpage for Fall 2012.

Big Data, Andrew Cencini

A study of large-scale data management approaches.  Includes programming techniques for large data sets, exposure to relational database management systems, NoSQL, and distributed processing via Apache’s Hadoop framework.  Webpage for Fall 2012.

Physics I: Forces and Motion, Hugh Crowl

An introduction to what Newton called, “The System of the World.” In this class, we focus on the motion of objects and how that motion is affected by internal and external forces. The lab section of this class allows students to explore these physical concepts and design a project that goes into more detail.

Modern Observational Techniques, Hugh Crowl

A hands-on introduction to the process of astronomical observing. In class, we discuss how you measure position, brightness, luminosity, velocity, and distance of stars and galaxies. On clear nights, we use Stickney Observatory to put these lessons into practice.

Environmental GeologyTim Schroeder

An introduction to physical geology focused on human-Earth interactions; basically, a simple users-manual for understanding the substrate for life and ecosystems.

Intro to Maps and Geographic Information SystemsTim Schroeder

A short 2-credit overview of how maps are constructed, and how to analyze spatial information using computerized mapping tools and spatial databases; much of the focus is on understanding spatial data and how to frame research questions that can be asked with spatial data.

Bedrock GeologyTim Schroeder

An intermediate course following upon introductory physical geology, this course is intended to help students develop the analytic skills needed to study the three-dimensional structure of subsurface Earth; much of the focus is on 3-D visualization and analysis skills (lots of field trips).

Introduction to Applied Mathematics, Michael Reardon

The emphasis of this course is on mathematical modeling, and the tools necessary for it. Topics include population growth, predator‐prey systems, planetary motion, random processes, and heat flow, among others. The necessary mathematical tools to be introduced are difference equations and dynamical systems, exponential and logarithmic functions, dimensional analysis, and probability. This course also introduces students to elementary computer programming topics via the mathematical software Scilab (an open source version of Matlab) which aids in the visualization and interpretation of data and selecting appropriate mathematical models.

Orbital Dynamics, Michael Reardon

This course will introduce many of the concepts needed to describe orbits of bodies moving in a gravitational field. After an introduction to Newtonian mechanics, the two‐body problem will be covered in detail including the classical theory of Kepler orbits, the orbital elements, and orbital transfers. We will then cover important aspects of the three‐body problem which is used to model trajectories of small satellites moving in the Earth‐Moon and Sun‐Earth/Moon systems. Students will also gain further experience with analytical and numerical solutions to ordinary differential equations including linear and nonlinear systems, fixed points, periodic orbits, stability, and chaotic orbits. .

Global Problems, Local Solutions, Valerie Imbruce

In this course we will consider how global environmental problems take on societal importance and what steps have been taken to deal with them. What is the role of science in describing environmental problems? How does ideology shape what are described as problems? What kinds of conflict arise in the process of defining problems and solutions? The course will focus on the American environment movement from the 1960s to the present day to familiarize students with its main actors and issues and to track the change in environmental thought over time.  We will focus on how people pursue solutions through policy, grassroots organizing, research, and writing.

NEXT TERM (SPRING 2013)

Bennington Biodiversity Project, Kerry Woods

Bennington’s 450-acre campus includes a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial habitats; this is an occasional course that provides students a vehicle for intensive taxonomic study of a selected group of organisms living on campus.  Each episode focuses on a different group: for example, aquatic invertebrates, fall-blooming plants (Fall 2009), insects (Spring 2011), fungi (Fall 2011), bryophytes and lichens (Spring 2013). Results of student work are compiled in an ongoing, wiki-based “All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory” for the campus.

Animal Social BehaviorElizabeth Sherman

The evolution and adaptedness of different social systems with particular attention to current models of the evolution of altruistic behavior. Website from prior year (to be updated)

How Do Animals Work, Elizabeth Shemran

Why do different animals work in different ways? The blue whale in the Pacific, the tapeworm lodged in the gut of a fox, and the flour beetle in your cupboard all must eat and grow and reproduce yet they differ enormously in size, longevity and environment. The particular ways in which each of these animals has solved these problems are different yet there are also underlying similarities in the mechanics of their solutions.  We will examine the array of strategies (adaptations) which animals possess that enables them to survive and reproduce in an often unpredictable world.  Website from prior year (to be updated)

Introduction to Cell BiologyAmie McClellan

An introduction to cells, cellular components, and the inner workings that drive the form(s) and function(s) of individual cells and cells united in the context of a multicellular organism. Expect to learn the fundamentals of metabolism, DNA replication, RNA transcription, and protein translation, as well as the posttranslational life and times of proteins (protein trafficking, cytoskeletal structure and dynamics, etc).  New for this spring – a new textbook!  We will use “Essential Cell Biology” (Alberts et al.) for the first time…

Mutants: Genetic Variation in Human DevelopmentAmie McClellan

This course provides an in-depth look at the topics raised in the popular non-fiction book Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi. We will cover some classic developmental biology, learn the basics of genetics, and come to understand how genotype informs phenotype at the cellular and/or organismal level. The term culminates with each student proposing the underlying scientific basis for a “mutant” of their own devising…

Research in Cell BiologyAmie McClellan

In this advanced hands-on laboratory course students will undertake projects related to the process(es) of misfolded protein recognition and degradation, collectively referred to as “quality control”, in the cytoplasm of the single-celled eukaryote Saccharomyces cerevisiae (aka budding yeast; baker’s yeast)

Make Me Dangerous, Andrew Cencini

An intensive introduction to the field of computer science.  Includes Linux/Unix operating system fundamentals; programming in Python; and a survey of the problems, areas of study, and lore specific to computer science.

Programming and Data Structures in C, Andrew Cencini

An advanced study of data structures (linked lists, hash tables, queues, stacks, trees, etc.) that are part of almost every piece of computer software in existence.  Examined through the lens of the C programming language, students learn to program in C, while becoming proficient with implementation and analysis of the various core data structures in question.

Modern Physics, Hugh Crowl

A study of the physics that Issac Newton knew nothing about: the physics of the very fast (Special Relativity) and of the very small (Quantum Mechanics).

Stars and Galaxies, Hugh Crowl

An introduction to astronomy, focusing on the formation and evolution of stars, the formation and evolution of galaxies, and how stars and galaxies fit into the large scale structure of the Universe.

Physics II, Tim Schroeder

The second half of the introductory physics sequence; this course begins with a broad overview of vibrations and wave phenomena, but the bulk of the course content is on electricity and magnetism. Students are expected to perform self-directed laboratory experiments to test the theories covered in the lecture portion of the course.

Environmental HydrologyTim Schroeder

This course will use local waterways to build a general understanding of the physics that governs the movement of fresh water through natural systems. We will collect data on local waterways and use GIS and numerical modelling software to predict future water flows and assess flood hazards.

Module: Environmental Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations, Tim Schroeder

Students in this this 1-credit module will learn how to apply simple mathematics and approximation skills to better understand and evaluate environmental factoids, and how to quickly separate good ideas from half-baked notions.

Calculus I, Michael Reardon

The study of Calculus is the study of functions whose properties can be approximated by lines when considered over small enough intervals. This idea, when combined with the powerful limit concept, is what allows us to work with nonlinear functions and extend the property of slope to curves or compute the area of a region whose boundaries are nonlinear. In Calculus I we will find that the scope of these ideas is much broader, however. Topics to be covered include limits, derivatives, and integrals of single variable functions as well as methods of computing these quantities and their applications. Further topics may include Taylor series, parametric functions, and multivariable Calculus.

Dynamical Systems, Chaos, and Fractals, Michael Reardon

Dynamical systems are rules which describe how to obtain the future state of a system from knowledge of present and past states. These systems are used to model a wide variety of phenomena in the physical, biological, social and economic sciences. In the study of dynamical systems one finds that even simple systems can lead to complex behavior including chaos, which is commonly referred to as the ʺButterfly Effectʺ. One of the great challenges in modern scientific study is to extract order from chaos so that predictions based on a dynamical system model exhibiting chaotic behavior can be made. Topics will include discrete, continuous and coupled dynamical systems, fixed points, stability, bifurcations, period doubling, and fractals including Julia sets and the Mandelbrot set. Further topics may include phase plane analysis, Poincaré maps, the double pendulum, and the Lorenz equations.

Bennington Farm to Plate, Valerie Imbruce

In 2011, Vermont released its Farm to Plate Strategic Plan to provide a rationale and approach to increase economic development in Vermont’s food and farm sector and improve access to healthy, local foods. Much of this work is to be done by a network of devoted individuals and organizations across the state, including a nascent Farm to Plate Council in Bennington. In this course we will contribute to the statewide effort by conducting research on food and farm issues in the Bennington region. Students will learn methods for making systematic observations about food production, distribution, or consumption, interpreting the data collected, and documenting results.

Ethnobotany, Valerie Imbruce

This course will be a cross-cultural study of the relationships between people and plants. We will focus on how indigenous peoples around the world today know and use plants for food, medicine, shelter, and rituals. We will examine folk taxonomies, the role of plants in religion and cosmology, the conservation of genetic diversity, and the ethics of bioprospecting and scientific documentation of indigenous knowledge. The course will include basic botany as well as cultural studies.

Environmental Studies Colloquium, Valerie Imbruce and Janet Foley

The Environmental Studies Colloquium is an intensive, multidisciplinary exploration of a particular environmental topic of concern.  The class will involve readings from technical and general literature in natural and social sciences, visits with guest experts and speakers, and class discussion.  The Spring 2013 Colloquium will focus on environmental health, specifically as related to chemical and biological materials –’pollutants’ — that influence human health and quality of life. We will address questions such as what naturally occurring substances and synthetic pollutants pose risks to human health? Is the right to live in an environment that doesn’t impose health risks a basic human right? Who is responsible for maintaining environmental health and what are the political and economic barriers for doing so?

 

SUMMER 2013

Field Course in Coral Reef BiologyElizabeth Sherman

The biodiversity of coral reefs has been declining rapidly in the last 20 years due in large part to human activities.  In this field course students will have an opportunity to confront this problem directly and contribute to our understanding of reef biodiversity.  This course will take place on the island of Grand Cayman, British West Indies for one week in the summer of 2013.  Students will have an opportunity to become certified scuba divers and gain first hand experience with the taxonomy, identification and characteristics of the animals that live in coral reefs as they dive and snorkel in the fringing reefs of Grand Cayman. Students will also engage in underwater research and contribute fish diversity data to an international repository for such data. Link to video from prior class.

PAST AND FUTURE

Overview of the chemistry 1-4 sequence

Our chemistry curriculum integrates general and organic chemistry from the very first course. This enables students to learn chemical concepts using systems that most clearly demonstrate an idea. This approach also permits students to investigate topics of interest to them whether they are in organic systems, materials science, or biochemical applications. We work with students to read research papers, interpret data, and ask relevant questions. Our labs expose students to techniques, including a wide range of spectroscopic applications, and provide opportunities for them to develop their own experiments.

 

Chemistry 1: Chemical Principles

This class is the first of a four course sequence covering General and Organic Chemistry. Students do not need to take the entire sequence. This course will focus on introductory chemical principles, including atomic theory, classical and quantum bonding concepts, molecular structure, organic functional groups, and the relationship between structure and properties. The class will have lecture/discussion meetings at which we will critically examine the major concepts of reading assignments, discuss articles, and review some of the current developments of the field. The aim of the laboratory will be to develop your experimental skills, especially your ability to design meaningful experiments, analyze data, and interpret observations. Some background in math (pre‐calculus) would be helpful.

 

Chemistry 2: Organic Structure and Bonding

Students will explore stoichiometric relationships in solution and gas systems which are the basis of quantifying results of chemical reactions. Understanding chemical reactivity leads directly into discussion of equilibrium and thermodynamics, two of the most important ideas in chemistry.  Equilibrium, especially acid/base applications, explores the extent of reactions while thermodynamics helps us understand if a reaction will happen. Students will be introduced to new lab techniques and ways to measure progress of reactions. They will also devise their own questions and experiments. Kinetics (rates of reaction) provides information about how reactions work and, along with thermodynamics, provides the basis for evaluating the viability of a reaction. This concept will be explored particularly with respect to substitution reactions. Research articles will relate these ideas to current topics in the literature such as solar-enhanced fuels, rates of atmospheric reactions, and using chemistry for remediation. Taking CHE2211 Chemistry 1 and CHE4212 Chemistry 2 provides a good background for students interested in environmental applications.

 

Chemistry 3: Organic Reactions and Mechanisms

Chemistry 3 focuses on how reactions happen: what the steps are, how we discover them, and how we use this to look at some practical systems: the synthesis of a drug, the kinetics of substitution. Emphasis will be using the general principles such as nucleophiles and electrophiles, to guide an understanding of specific reactions. Lab will focus on several clusters of experiments designed for students to extend what they know to answer questions of their own. A major project will be the development of a research proposal based on the studentʹs own question. Background from the literature will motivate the proposal and initial experiments will be proposed.

Chemistry 4: The Chemistry of Materials

This course represents the culmination of the two-year integrated general/organic chemistry sequence. Students will apply the principles of Chemistry 1 – 3 to substantive research projects that they will design, execute, and present. Lecture material will focus on the principles behind modern materials such as polymers, semiconductors, and novel nanostructures. Additional topics will also be covered, and could include electrochemistry and electron-transfer reactions, applications of molecular orbital theory, and the chemistry of biological systems.

Chemistry 4 Lab: Independent Project

Students will apply the principles of Chemistry 1, 2, and 3 to the execution of substantive research projects of
their own design. They will also be responsible for independently analyzing their data and publicly presenting
their findings. Enrollment is limited to those students who have had a project proposal approved as part of
Chemistry 3.

Biochemistry

Biochemistry is an intermediate chemistry course in which students apply principles from general and organic chemistry, as well as general biology, to understand the molecular processes that characterize life. Biochemistry is a broad discipline that is growing rapidly in its scope – new developments and discoveries are being made daily. The goal of this class will be to give students a solid background with which they can appreciate the latest developments and research reports. We will begin with fundamental principles, but quickly move into a detailed look at metabolism – the specific means by which organisms use chemical energy to drive cell functions and how they convert simple molecules to complex biological molecules. This approach will provide a context to illustrate many of the core ideas we will cover. Students will also have the opportunity for independent work which will allow them to apply these ideas to topics of their own specific interests. Students will have weekly review assignments and at least two independent projects, including an oral presentation of a final project.

 

Environmental Chemistry:

What everyone needs to know to make a difference

 Have you ever listened to the news and wondered why there is a hole in the ozone layer, why there are high cancer rates in some places, why the earth is warming up, or why pesticides kill bugs…  Many of the problems we face are the result of chemical interactions. The purpose of the course is to help you develop the tools that you need to be a knowledgeable citizen about a broad range of environmental issues.  The class is designed to teach chemistry on a “need to know” basis; that is you learn the concepts needed to understand air pollution, acid rain, the greenhouse effect, nuclear energy, alternative energy sources, making polymers, drug design, and nutrition.  Emphasis will be on discussion of the social and political implications of the issues as well as a chemical understanding. Students will have the opportunity to do a project on a topic of their interest.

 

The Chemistry of Drugs

Why do drugs work? Does Echinacea cure colds? How are drugs designed? This course is open to all students with any interest in this broad topic. We will learn the chemistry and biochemistry necessary to understand the relationship between drug shape and mechanism of efficacy (if it is known). Students will investigate what is known about natural remedies and if and why they work. Students will be expected to do research, write papers, present discussion in class as well as show competence in the chemical background. No lab is offered!

 

 

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