The Science Behind the Headlines: What's the Truth?

Fall 2013 and Winter 2014 quarters

Taught by

organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, biochemistry
biology, genetics, microbiology


This program begins a week early. After registering, you will receive an email from the faculty requesting some additional information needed for field trip clearances at Hanford and Grand Coulee Dams. You must email this additional information to Lab I program secretaries ( as soon as possible, but definitely by August 31.

Are you curious about the world around you? Would you like to really understand "buzz terms" the media uses such as sustainability, green materials, climate change, the water crisis, the energy debate, genetic engineering, DNA fingerprinting and cloning? How can we believe what we are being told? What is the evidence? How is scientific data actually collected, and what analytical methods are being used? Are the correct conclusions being drawn? As responsible citizens we should know the answers to these questions.

In this two-quarter program we will demystify the hype surrounding popular myths, critically examine the data, and use scientific reasoning and experimental design to come to our own conclusions. In fall, we will study "water" and "energy" as themes to examine our environment, considering local and global water issues. We will also examine current energy use and demand, critically assessing various sources of energy: fossil fuels, nuclear, hydropower, etc.

We will begin the program on September 23 (Orientation Week), one week BEFORE the regularly scheduled fall quarter start, so that we are prepared for our field trip by beginning our study of energy, and establishing our learning community. The Eastern Washington field trip will be a unique opportunity for personalized tours of Hanford Reactor B (the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor which produced the plutonium for the "Fat Man" bomb dropped over Nagasaki in 1945), Grand Coulee Dam (the largest hydropower producer in the U.S.), and the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Energy facility (150 turbines across 10,000 acres serving more than 80,000 homes). On this trip, we will also learn key field science techniques: how to take measurements in the field, collect samples for laboratory analysis and precisely determine concentrations of nutrients and pollutants.

In winter quarter, we will use "natural and synthetic materials" as a theme to study petrochemical plastics, biodegradable plastics and other sustainable materials, as well as key biological materials such as proteins and DNA. We will carefully examine the properties of these materials in the laboratory and study their role in the real world. "Forensics" will be our final theme, learning techniques such as DNA fingerprinting, blood spatter analysis, ballistics and other modern forensic procedures.

In this field- and lab-based program, scientific analysis—rather than conjecture or gut-feeling—will be the foundation of our work. Other class activities will include small group problem-solving workshops, seminars, student researched presentations and lectures.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

environmental and laboratory sciences, the liberal arts and education.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Required Fees

$300 in fall for a multi-day field trip.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter)

Class standing: Freshmen ONLY ; 100% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 36


Course Reference Number

Fr (16 credits): 10095

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Course Reference Number

Fr (16 credits): 20070

Go to to register for this program.

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