Spring 2023

Physics and Astronomy in Sociocultural Context

Listed in: Physics and Astronomy, as ASTR-255  |  Physics and Astronomy, as PHYS-255

Moodle site: Course


Kate Follette (Section 01)


How much are physics and astronomy influenced by society and culture, and vice versa?  How is knowledge generated in these fields, and to what extent do history, culture, ethics, and social factors affect the conduct and perception of scientific advancement? In this course, students will explore the broader sociocultural context in which physical and astronomical knowledge is generated, as well as the effects that this context has on attribution and acceptance of scientific ideas. We will explore how scientific paradigms, acceptance into scientific communities, and the ethics of scientific advancement have changed with time. The course will begin with discussions of the history,  philosophy, and economics of science. In the second part of the course, students will be exposed to a range of biographical and first person accounts, both historical and modern, of the scientific careers and discoveries of various physicists, astrophysicists,and biophysicists. We will explore the challenges that these scientists encountered within a range of contexts and cultures, and the effect that their identities and discoveries had on society and the practice of science more broadly. The course will end with a unit on the ethics of physics and astronomy that addresses the implications of scientific discoveries on particular communities and on society at large.  The course will include guest lectures from a number of experts in these areas. 

Requisite: ASTR 228, PHYS 225, PHYS 230. Spring semester. Limited to 18 students. Professor Follette. 

How to handle overenrollment: Preference to seniors and majors

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Discussions facilitated by instructor or guest speaker, readings and videos, and final project


2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023