We all have some basic, intuitive understanding of energy as the stuff that powers everything -from the cells in our bodies to the computer chips in our cell phones. But what is this fundamental currency of the universe? This foundation seminar will explore multiple ways of answering this question. Drawing from the perspectives of both scientists and philosophers, we will examine how our understanding of energy has evolved historically and what we know about the laws that govern energy’s role in the universe. In the second half of the course, we will turn to the more practical concern of how humans manipulate energy and the challenges we face for energy production in the future.
Secret Codes, Hidden Patterns
You and your friend want to send each other secret messages, but how do you do it? You want to easily encrypt and decrypt your message, but want eavesdroppers to have difficulty breaking your code. You want a secure system, but don't want any method too tedious for encoding or decoding long messages. Think that's hard enough? What if you and your friend cannot meet ahead of time to discuss how to encode and decode your messages? Can you publicly tell your friend how to encode a message to send to you without revealing how to decode it? What if you are the eavesdropper? Can you crack someone else's encoded messages without knowing their code? Secret messages can be great fun among friends, but they also play big role in other areas, like national security and online shopping. In this course we will discover mathematical patterns that lend themselves to encryption methods along with the mathematical tools that can help us develop decryption methods. Along the way we'll see the evolution of cryptography through real historical examples.
Illusions: The Science and Art of Deception
We like to believe that we can trust what we see with our own eyes, but perception very rarely aligns with reality. In this course, we'll examine various types of illusions that demonstrate this disconnect. We'll see colors that aren't really there, fail to notice bears moonwalking right in front of us, and be tricked into hearing something entirely different than what was said. In addition, we will look at how illusions have been used by artists, magicians, engineers and marketing professionals. For example, we'll discuss why Monet's sunset shimmers and how a Hans Zimmer soundtrack builds tension throughout a movie. Not only will we study famous illusions created by others, through a combination of popular books and primary readings, but we will also create our own illusions. Through deception, we will reveal the mechanisms of perception.
Science and Serendipity
Imagine the next great scientific discovery. How will it come to be? At some point, someone will have to make an observation that strikes them as important. Perhaps they will be actively looking for it; perhaps it will be a surprise. After all, some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history have depended on seemingly minor things like the weather on a given day, spilling a particular chemical, or looking across the room at just the right angle at just the right time. Given that scientific discoveries will result not only from a set of deliberate choices, but also a set of random circumstances, what does it even mean to be a good scientist? In this course we will explore the roles of serendipity and creativity in scientific research. We’ll also think about what it takes to go from making an observation to generating new knowledge.