Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Science in the News

CHEM 25N
Please note: CHEM 25N will meet Online Synchronously in Autumn Quarter.

News media call public attention to scientific problems and advances in a huge variety of fields. At the moment, the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences attract a large amount of coverage and interest. In the last couple of decades, the occurrence and consequences of climate change have been extensively studied and reported. New data obtained from new types of observatories is giving us new insights into the nature and history of the universe. Genomics is giving us information about evolution of species and about the history of the human species. There are many other topics of great interest and/or importance in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, psychology, and sociology, as well as engineering and medicine.

Science news reports are usually brief. It is difficult to learn science by reading a few news articles. However, there are many publications easily available on the Internet that present science information designed to be understood by nonscientists. In some cases, even research papers written for experts in the field may be partially read and understood by nonexperts.

The first goal of this course is to teach you how to get access to these publications and how to judge their accuracy and reliability. In the first part of the course, most of the class time will be spent in discussions of topics chosen by you, your classmates, and/or by the class collectively. When the Nobel Prizes for the sciences are announced in early October, we will have discussions of the basic science behind this year’s prizes.

The second goal of the course is to give you the opportunity to prepare and present two talks to the class on some scientific topic of your choice. This will occur in the second part of the course. The preparation for these talks will require use of appropriate publications available on the Internet. In this part of the course you will also see and hear the talks prepared by your classmates. This will give you some idea of the breadth of activity in the scientific community.

The topics of the scientific discussions in the class meetings, with the exception of the Nobel Prize discussions, will be based on choices made by the class. It is not my goal to teach any specific subject, but rather to teach how to inform yourself about subjects you find interesting by using existing material on the Internet.  

This course will be taught online using Zoom. Anyone who takes the course should have a computer (laptop or desktop) with a microphone and camera and Zoom software. Last year I found that the Zoom class of 16 students could have interesting and informative discussions, largely because everyone in the class is able to see everyone else face to face. Since every student will give two talks, it would be worthwhile for each student to be able to use presentation software (e.g., Apple Keynote, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Google Slides).

Meet the Instructor(s)

Hans Andersen

"I am a professor emeritus in the Chemistry Department. I was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Because of my interest in mathematics and science, I went to Stuyvesant High School, one of the well-known science high schools in New York City. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in chemistry at MIT and postdoctoral work at Harvard University. I was offered a position on the faculty at Stanford in 1968 and have been in the Chemistry Department ever since. My research uses statistical mechanics, which is a branch of theoretical physics, to study problems of chemical interest. I am best known for my work on the structure of simple liquids and the development of various computer simulation techniques for the study of liquids. I have taught a wide range of courses at Stanford, from introductory chemistry to intermediate physical chemistry to advanced graduate courses in statistical mechanics. My wife, June, was a physics major as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri. She went on to get a PhD in Genetics at Stanford. She then began a long career at IBM Corp. where she had several types of technical and managerial positions. Our two sons, Hans and Albert, both went to Stanford, both majored in Computer Science, and both are computer engineers working for Microsoft. In my spare time, I study piano (classical and jazz). I enjoy live and recorded music (from Bach to grand opera to bebop and slightly beyond), reading (history, current events, mystery novels), and good food."