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Science and writing: honors college, honors 298: special topics, 3 credits.

Course Description

Students explore the logic of science by examining the language and writing about science, using various thinking-writing exercises to stimulate their research. While hearing lectures about fundamental scientific principles and analyzing knowledge structures of scientific discourse, students write cause-and-effect explanations of a variety of phenomena by building them up from first principles; science essays are developed using standard rhetorical devices of scientific discourse. Small-group exercises include "workshopping" each student's writing regarding tone, clarity, fluidity, and accuracy. Twenty-three students enroll in this course.

Course Materials

Six Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman

The Nature of Science, by James Trefil

The Science Book, by Peter Tallack

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser


January 24

Writing and Language

How to actively observe a diagram and write a 500-word guided tour

How to interrogate a quotation, and integrate it into a text

Assign 25 one-page Tallack essays per week as a gentle and pleasant introduction to science

January 26 Kinetic Theory: inter-atomic collisions

Feynman: Chapter 1: "Atoms in Motion"

Trefil: "Kinetic theory" + links

Cause-and-effect relationships linking gas laws and random atomic motion

January 31

Atomic Theory

Feynman Chapter 2, "Basic physics"

Trefil: "Bohr Model" + links

The Bohr model of the atom; electrons and nucleons; electron orbitals spectroscopy as the experimental basis of atomic theory

February 2

Writing and Language

Textual macrostructures and macropropositions

February 7


Feynman: Chapter 1: "Atoms in Motion" (review)

Trefil: "Heat" and "Changes of State" + links

Phase transitions; the domino effect, thermal transfer and mammalian thermoregulation: conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation

Hand in: First 500-word guided tour of a diagram for the first term paper

February 9


Trefil: "Doppler Effect" + links

Tuning fork experiment introducing resonant energy transfer; the nature of sound, and the domino effect; waves, wavelengths, frequencies, and amplitudes; The Doppler Effect and Doppler medical imaging

Hand in: Five extended definitions + examples for the first term paper (500 words total)

February 14

Hearing (1)

The domino effect in the ear; the lever system of ossicles in the middle ear; the inner ear and resonant energy transfer; cochlear implants

February 16

Writing and Language

Local cohesion and global coherence of texts

How to write extended definitions using examples, analogies, graphics, applications, and generalizations

Hand in: 500-word essay describing two scientific principles fundamental to the first term paper

February 21

Electricity and Magnetism

Trefil: "Coulomb's Law," "Magnetism," "Electrical Properties" + links

Coulomb's Law; the electron, magnetism, magnetic and electric fields

Faraday's Principle applied to alternative energy production

Hand in: Second 500-word guided tour of the first term-paper diagram

February 23


Feynman Chapter 3: "The relation of physics to other sciences"

Trefil: "Chemical Bonds" + links

Chemical bonding and the Periodic Table; covalent / ionic bonds

February 28

Writing and Language

Identifying fundamentals principles of scientific topics (axiomatics)

Hand in: Three rewrites of previous assignments--of (1) a guided tour, (2) the definitions, and (3) the fundamental principles

March 2

Chemical Bonding

Polar molecules, van der Waals bonds, detergents, and dietary physics

Hand in: macrostructures of the first term paper + transitional sentences

March 7

In-class midterm; the take-home writing component due today

March 9

Writing and Language

Rhetorical structures in scientific writing, e.g., analogy, logical deduction, semantic parallelism, experimental testing, generalizations and induction

The nature of science in the nature of scientific rhetoric

March 14

Science analogies

Exercises on analogies and how to develop them for term papers: the Bohr Model and the planetary system; the Domino effect, sound, and heat transfer; tuning forks and the vibrating inner-ear membrane; ATP as the currency of living things

March 16

Neurons and Nerve Impulses

Trefil: "Nerve Signals" + links

Bio-electricity, neurons, action potentials, nerve impulses, Hand in: First term paper

March 21

Spring Break

March 23

Spring Break

March 28

Writing and Language

Interactive and interactional metadiscourse and its function in scientific writing; How to anticipate and accommodate readers' needs

March 30


Trefil: "Archimedes' Principle" and "Water Cycle" + links

Archimedes' Principle and global weather patterns; rain formation; Hand in: 500-word guided tour of a diagram for the second term-paper

April 4

Grand Processes and Principles of Science

Feynman Chapter 4: "Conservation of Energy"

Trefil: "Molecular Biology, central dogma," "Evolution," "Greenhouse Effect," "Thermodynamics," "Photosynthesis," and Conservation laws [index] + links

April 6

DNA and large molecules

Trefil: "Molecules of life," "Proteins," "Mendel's Laws" + links

April 11

Writing and Language

Varieties and uses of quantitative graphics

Small-group decision making / critical reasoning using quantitative graphs

Hand in: Five extended definitions + illustrative examples (500 words total) for the second term paper

April 13

Writing and Language

How to get the reader's attention--examples from popular science writing

Small-group exercises to explore methods of humanizing science essays

April 18


Trefil: "Electromag. spectrum," "Spectroscopy," "Snell's Law" + links

The visible spectrum; refraction; prisms, and rainbows

Hand in: 500-word guided tour of a quantitative figure for the second term paper

April 20

Vision--Corrective lenses, color vision, laser eye correction, retinal implants (2,3)

April 25

Nuclear Structure and Radiation

Trefil: "Nuclear fusion and fission" and "Radioactive decay" + links

Rutherford's experiment; nuclear structure and stability; E=[mc.sup.2]; small-group exercises to analyze (quantitative) graphs of atomic properties

Hand in: macrostructures of the second term paper + transitional sentences

April 27

Students discuss science articles that they found in the popular press

Hand in: 500-word essay of analogies relevant to the second term paper

May 2

Astronomy and Cosmology

Feynman Chapter 5: "Theory of Gravitation"

Trefil: "Big Bang," and both "Newton" entries + links

Gravity, the solar system, stellar evolution, and nucleosynthesis

May 4

Nuclear theory

Trefil: "Correspondence Principle," "Vital Force" "Determinism" + links

Philosophy of indeterminism, Born's statistical interpretation in quantum physics; wave-particle duality; Laplacian determinism

May 9

The Limits and Value of Science

Trefil: Selections from the Introduction, + links

Discussion about big issues raised by the Big Bang, origins, and endings; compare and contrast religious faith, scientific faith, and scientific method

Hand in: Second term paper

Grading Policy

Your grade will be based on two tests (20% each) and two term papers (20% each), + homework assignments / class participation (20%).

(1) Scientific American Frontiers: + links.

(2) Scientific American Frontiers: + links.

(3) + links.

The author may be contacted at



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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Honors Syllabi
Author:Charpie, John C.; Shea, Michael
Publication:Honors in Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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