SCI1299 Biology: What An Engineer Needs To Know

This course interrogates the subject of biology with a focus on what an Olin engineer needs to know and how biological knowledge and research methods might be applied to engineering thinking. This course fulfills the foundation biology requirement. Traditionally an introductory biology course would offer a standard outline appropriate for those who would go on to major in biology. However, I look at SCI1299 as the only biology course an engineer might take since almost none go on to major in biology. Therefore, I strive to make the course relevant to the future life of engineers as citizens who are informed and knowledgeable regarding modern biology without sacrificing depth and rigor that such non-major courses often fall victim. The course is topic and project oriented with a focus on important questions faced by Olin engineers as citizens, creative developers of technology and stewards of the environment of planet earth. Student-directed final projects figure prominently in the course as individuals or teams decide what is really important for an authentic biological experience to produce and share with the Olin community.

We will consider topics such as the science and applications of genome analysis and the inherent ethical implications of manipulation of the genomes of humans and other biological organisms. Some of the questions include: Who owns your genome and what do we mean by genetic privacy? Why not clone humans? What are anti-vaccine movements and expected outcomes with respect to human health? What is the origin and implication of rejection of public health measures versus support for individual freedom in the United States? We will study the development of the 2019 coronavirus caused Covid-19 pandemic and what is needed to prepare for the next inevitable pandemic. How does climate change relate to pandemics, to biodiversity and habitat loss? How might an engineer best approach these issues?

Hands-on experience with technologies in the laboratory includes sequencing one’s own gene for human taste and learning how the DNA sequence explains the observable outcome for taste or failure to taste bitter substances, identifying new viruses of soil bacteria and performing cutting edge technologies such as CRISPR gene editing. The use of video and photographic technologies to document and inspire support of biology and conserving our planet are also options for hands-on projects.

Credits: 4 SCI

Usually Offered: Fall or Spring