Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Science in the News


News media call 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 can be difficult to learn science from reading a single news article. However, there are many publications easily available on the web that present science information that is designed to be understood by nonscientists.

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 each student the opportunity to prepare and present one or two talks to the class on some scientific topic of interest of their choice. This will occur in the second part of the course.

All of the scientific discussions in the class meetings (with the exception of the Nobel Prize work) will be based on choices made by the class. It is not my goal to teach any specific subject, but rather to teach you how to inform yourselves about subjects you find interesting by using existing material on the web and to give every student the opportunity to present and discuss what they have learned with others.

Anyone who takes the course should have a computer (laptop or desktop) with a microphone and camera in order to attend the Zoom online meetings of the class. Everyone in the class will be able to see and hear everyone else. I hope we have interesting and informative discussions just as if we were all in the same room. Since every student will give at least one talk to the class, 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 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."