STS 347

Better Living Through Chemistry: Studies in the History and Practice of Chemistry

"Better things for better living...through chemistry" was a popular slogan used by DuPont in the mid-to-late twentieth century to market laboratory-developed products. Increasingly, concerns have been raised about the merits and consequences of chemicals in our food, goods, and environment. This class analyzes how we know what we know about chemistry, and how studies of the very small shape fundamental questions about the world, e.g. what is natural, what is artificial, does the difference matter, and if so in what contexts? By investigating a series of historical episodes that highlight some of the key intellectual, social, and political challenges of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this course examines how we learn about, modify, and relate to our environment chemically. From the development of the periodic table to the study of pollution, this course encourages students to gain an appreciation for the science of chemistry while engaging in cross-disciplinary dialogue about ways in which chemistry affects our daily lives.