Dr. Kinghorn on Medicinal Plants | Gianna Baroni

It was very apparent how knowledgeable Dr. Kinghorn is in pharmacology and the use of medicinal plants for drug therapy. I appreciated that in addition to discussing the English and French scientists and the pharmacological uses of botany that they discovered, Dr. Kinghorn related his field of knowledge to our trip and recommended places to visit as well as giving us a brief historical context behind them.

I had no idea that there are over 10,000 plants that are used for medicinal purposes and that there are more than 200,000 known compounds that are found in vascular plants. It’s amazing to think that there are also millions of specimens in both Kew Gardens and Jardin de Plants.

Dr. Alber on Louis Pasteur | Gianna Baroni

Dr. Alber really did a great job in incorporating the movie The Story of Louis Pasteur in order to describe how much Pasteur contributed to our society today towards the field of medicine, basic hygiene, and figured out the proper ways to ferment wine and beer and pasteurize cheese and milk. Pasteur contributed immensely to the paradigm shift of the germ theory. I think it’s amazing that he saved so many lives with vaccines of rabies and anthrax and his understanding of how environmental factors such as pH, oxygen, and temperature can affect what type of microbes are present in various solutions. I also loved seeing the picture of his lab and learning about his OCD-like nightly routine in order to get to get washed and go to bed.

Dr. Gnidovec on Fossils, Rocks, & Minerals | Gianna Baroni

I’ve never seen someone so passionate and enthusiastic about their job as Dr. Gnidovec and it truly warmed my heart to listen to him ooze about fossils, rocks, bones, and crystals. I had no idea that there was such a beautiful and historical spot on campus. I loved briefly touring the museum afterward and checking out the crystals, manganese dendrites that look like fossils, and of course the actual fossils; the little gift shop was very cute too. I can’t believe that he maintains over 54,000 rocks, minerals, and fossils.

I felt like a little kid again getting excited about dinosaurs and getting to hold some fossils for myself. It’s crazy to think about how species today evolved from these dinosaurs through countless variations that were naturally selected for over such a long period of time (with the help of major events that caused some serious genetic drift of course, but still) and Dr. Gnidovec did a phenomenal job with putting things into perspective.

I was amused at how firmly Thomas Jefferson did not believe in extinction to the point where he told Louis and Clark to look for huge ground sloths on their expedition. I honestly didn’t even know Thomas Jefferson had anything to do with the field of science, but it’s neat that he has a species named after him as a result.

My favorite part of the presentation was, by far, holding the teeth of mastodons and feeling how heavy it was—imagine having to carry around a set of those every day. I still can’t believe someone just dug that adult tooth up from their back yard.

Dr. Otter on Thomas Kuhn | Gianna Baroni

Dr. Otter started off by giving context for Kuhn’s dynamic work that is highly cited in the scientific field through a general timeline of science that emerged from pseudoscience and Kuhn’s influences. He then continued by succinctly defining a paradigm and gave several essential examples of paradigm shifts. He then dived into Kuhn’s work and discussed the accumulation of anomalies leading up to paradigm shifts and the normal science that follows. I liked how he reiterated Kuhn’s points that we always just assume that the textbooks (especially in high school) are automatically correct and that younger generations are more likely to accept a paradigm in comparison to the older generations who have grown up with a previous one. I also liked that he pointed out that scientists don’t just follow paradigms because they believe they are true–they are emotionally, socially, and financially connected to them. Dr. Otter did a great job in conveying the main ideas and providing context regarding Kuhn’s work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but I would have personally preferred that he went more in-depth with the analysis. I didn’t find it very amusing that he answered questions by either restating his main ideas and not providing further support or just brushing them off completely, but his lecture was informative and gave us a solid foundation for the entirety of the book.

Dr. Mathur on Black Holes and Theoretical Physics | Gianna Baroni

Dr. Mathur’s lecture on black holes and theoretical physics was so inspiring and his evident passion for the subject genuinely reignited my interest in physics. Even though he is so knowledgeable in his field, he introduced these often difficult to understand concepts to us in a way that he made sure we understood, was logical, entertaining, and could be visualized with Dr. Mathur’s help. I loved learning about the nuances in the theories of black holes and realizing how recent these findings are. I think what captured my attention the most was the fact that we still really don’t know how they work and even Einstein didn’t get it completely right. The development of the idea of black holes and the string theory is such a great example of our current paradigm not fully being able to explain the physical world and how there is ongoing research being conducted to support the string theory—the most recent paradigm. Just thinking about dark energy and dark matter blows my mind and I truly appreciate how well Dr. Mathur conveyed this to us.

Dr. Goldish on Religion and Science before Darwin | Gianna Baroni

Dr. Goldish started his presentation off with a bold and foreign statement—religion and science, before Darwin’s time at least, coexisted peacefully and the belief that these two fields of study were in conflict back then is simply “hogwash” as Dr. Goldish put it. This really caught me off guard because I thought I was going to be listening to a lecture about the exact opposite, but I was pleasantly surprised. I wonder when and by what means this dissenting viewpoint was created. I’ve always been taught that scientists were constantly “at war” with religion and Copernicus and Galileo were often used as support for this theory. I find it interesting that Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Kepler were all extremely religious and that this conflict had been totally made up–Newton was so religious to the point that he thought the Second Coming of Christ would happen soon. I enjoyed listening to Dr. Goldish’s anecdotes about these four scientists’ discoveries like equants and epicycles and how they aided and challenged Copernicus.

 

Dr. Breitenberger on Women in Science | Gianna Baroni

I knew that historically, most women had little to no opportunities to contribute to the field of science, but Dr. Breitenberger’s presentation really opened my eyes to the extent of this and it makes me wonder what women could have contributed to science if they hadn’t been excluded from professional spaces and organizations in general. I find it sad that even the few women that Dr. Breitenberger discussed in her presentation had to work alongside with their husbands or brothers (well, most of them).

In addition to having to work alongside men, women also had to overcome the fact that they would likely not be credited with their contributions until much later along as seen with Mary Anning and Rosalind Franklin.

I also found it interesting that Marie-Anne Lavoisier really was crucial to her husband’s work because of her role as a translator for her husband by translating English to French for him and explaining his experimental design and methods to others in a more conversational fashion.

Dr. Cogan – A Tale of Two (Three) Chemists | Gianna Baroni

Dr. Cogan gave an intriguing presentation that delved into the works of Antoine & Marie Lavoisier and Joseph Priestly. Towards the beginning of the presentation, Dr. Cogan provided us some context about the phlogiston theory (that Lavoisier later disproved) by asking us to do a quick mental exercise in which we attempted to view the composition of air without any of our prior knowledge about oxygen and combustion; the result of this exercise was to think of air as a massless mystical substance rather than a mixture of different molecules. This part of the presentation really highlighted how great of a paradigm shift Lavoisier’s work with combustion was and gives a better justification as to why he was known as the “Father of Chemistry” even though Priestly basically replicated his experiment with different chemicals and oxygen was named after Priestly instead since Lavoisier didn’t fully understand what it was.

The exercise we did in class also got me thinking about how when I was a little kid, my grandmother, being a very religious person with very little education in the sciences, had always explained to me that the wind was the God’s way of pushing us and the rain was God’s tears because of our sins on Earth. I had adopted this way of thinking up until middle school; I had always thought of the weather and the air as God’s emotions and his essence. Obviously, I don’t hold those views today, but this really got me thinking how the concept of phlogiston would have been so easily accepted in society without the works of Lavoisier and Priestly.

I also thought that it was interesting that Priestly also created soda water by passing “windy water” over CO2 and sold it to a member of the Schweppe family and obviously, this brand is still in business today. The fate of Priestly is such a tragedy since he was doing his best to serve his country, yet instead, people perceived this act of giving the enemy faulty gunpowder as treason.

Dr. Root | Gianna Baroni

I appreciate the effort Dr. Root put into relating her presentation about John Snow’s research as well as her impressive research for the field of epidemiology/geography to the theme of our class, paradigm shifts. John Snow led us from the idea of Miasmata to the Germ Theory based on his work with cholera. I also never thought of the fact that geography could play a role in the effectiveness of a vaccine based on herd immunity. It makes total sense and I hope that all double-blind vaccines today at least take this into consideration. I also found it interesting that when Dr. Root was working on research with the West Nile virus, she had to be so specific with her questions that window-opening habits had to be asked about. Culture also plays a role in the field of epidemiology; for example, Bangladeshis offer their company tea as opposed to water since their water is not very clean.

Dr. Anelli on Darwin | Gianna Baroni

Dr. Anelli gave a captivating presentation which delved into the influences that shaped Darwin’s thinking and related these influences to the movie Creation. She started off the presentation by showcasing that Darwinian theory and methods are still imperative and relevant to research done today and the new technologies that continue to be unearthed only further confirm these theories.

Dr. Anelli continued her presentation by discussing the major philosophical and geological influences of Darwin. Philosophical thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle postulated the ideas of essentialism and scala naturae respectively, centuries before Christ. In the 18th century and early 19th century, Hutton introduced the idea of gradualism, Lyell built upon Hutton’s work which gave way to uniformitarianism, and Cuvier discovered that species of the past (by the means of fossils) were as unique as modern species which went against Aristotle and John Ray’s beliefs in the great chain of being, or scala naturae.

The next segment of the presentation had more of a focus on Darwin, his upbringing, the five-year voyage on the Beagle, and his family as influences. Personally, this part of the presentation was the most engaging segment particularly because of the worksheet we were given to use our prior knowledge based on Creation to fill out what we could and then later discuss the answers with Dr. Anelli. I hadn’t really learned about Darwin’s background prior to watching the movie and I found it very interesting that he had a fairly religious upbringing even throughout his life as an adult and that his accumulation of scientific discoveries alongside the death of his eldest daughter led him to turn away from religion. I also found it interesting that he was so close with his wife since the movie portrays such a stark contrast in that dynamic.

Dr. Anelli did a wonderful job delivering her presentation as she allowed us to see Darwin in a different light. I finally got to see Darwin through an adventurous historical lens that diverges from the rather monotonous lectures often given in basic biology courses that focus solely on natural selection and not the history behind the man who developed these profound ideas over the span of 20+ years.