Seeing the science in your life
A new program explores the value of scientific thought
Last spring, MELODY JAMES 99C used a small scalpel and dental tools to carefully scrape residue from an ancient Costa Rican pot decorated with the image of a tropical toad. An art history major, James was working in the conservation lab at the Michael C. Carlos Museum to determine the function of the vessel, which was thought to originate in the central highlands of Costa Rica more than twelve hundred years ago.
James sent her sample to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where its chemical characteristics will be compared to the composition of a toxin stored in the glands of the Central American toad Bufo marinus. That substance, bufotoxin, is poisonous to other animals but hallucinogenic to humans, so its presence in James residue sample would indicate that the pot probably served a ritualistic function.
An undergraduate internship funded by the Colleges new Program in Science and Society helped James take part in the collaborative art history/geosciences project. Directed by Associate Professor of Art History Rebecca Stone-Miller with assistance from William B. Size, professor of environmental studies, the project is an example of the kind of integrative endeavor that the Science and Society program wants to encourage.
Created by the University late last year, the program is expected to enhance teaching and research at Emory and to communicate the value of scientific thinking to a varied audience.
Science is seen as a hands-off, men-in-white-coats enterprise. Weve got to break that barrier down, because science is going to be so much a part of our lives in the next millennium, says Arri Eisen, program director.
To that end, the program has sponsored and produced daily Science in Your Life spots on Atlanta radio station WGKA 1190 AM and supports Hybrid Vigor, a new student-run online magazine.
The program also will help bring an exhibit on the life of Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling to Emory in the fall of 2000.
Although no majors or minors will be offered, the Science and Society program will encourage the development of new cross-listed courses and internships that span established departments.
In April, Howard Kushner, professor of history of medicine at San Diego State University, introduced the Emory community to the Science and Society program with an inaugural lecture, Solving Medical Mysteries: A Case for Reuniting Science and Society. Kushner will come to Emory as the first Robertson Distinguished Professor in fall 2000. Funded by a gift from NAT C. ROBERTSON 37Ox-39C, the Robertson Distinguished Professor will serve as the cornerstone of the Science and Society program by increasing cooperation between the College and medical school and developing seminars, outreach events, and new courses.
For undergraduates, these courses and other program offerings will provide an opportunity to approach learning in a very different way.
I think the big benefit [of the Science and Society internships], says Size, was to show students how disciplines really work togetherthat the geology, the mineralogy, actually help to understand the iconography or the carvings [in the Carlos Museums ancient art objects], and vice versa.
Approaching knowledge in that way, he says, reveals a whole new set of things you never thought about before.R.H.