Defending the BiosphereGAMBIER, Ohio (December 5, 2003) The Kenyon campus has been hearing a good deal about the Norgolian Imperial Peace Federation lately. It seems that Prince Norgol plans to invade Earth to eliminate our weapons of mass destruction, like SUVs and oil wells. Earth's main hope: the students of Biology 103, "Biology in Science Fiction," whose Web projects must demonstrate that humans have learned enough about the biosphere to preserve it.
The campus community will have a chance to view the Web projects and contemplate planetary salvation on December 11, when the students present their work during Common Hour in Higley Hall, the biology building. The session is aptly titled "Peace in the Galaxy."
Norgol is the creation of Professor Joan Slonczewski, who is not only a Kenyon microbiologist, much admired as a teacher and researcher, but also an award-winning science fiction writer. In addition to such courses as Experimental Microbiology and Molecular Biology & Genomics, she regularly offers Biology 103, a course for non-majors that examines fantasy and fact under twin premises: first, that science fiction "extends our knowledge of the natural world in extraordinary ways," and second, that "real biology is often more amazing than science fiction."
Using material that ranges from novels like Frank Herbert's Dune and Octavia Butler's Dawn to episodes of Star Trek and The X-Files, students learn about evolution, ecology, neuroscience, cloning, climate change, diseases, and other issues in biology. "The course always examines the significance of biology to serious social concerns," says Slonczewski, who usually centers the course on issues that have been in the news.
For their final projects, the students must create Web sites which "demonstrate that they've learned principles of biology and can apply them to a new situation," she says. The results, are often wonderfully fanciful, with inventive illustrations, humorously manipulated photographs, and titles like "Cows in Space," "The Earth after Hybridization," "The Planet Altoid," and "The Secrets of the Seaswallower."
If Prince Norgol surfs the Web and appreciates creativity, Earth is safe.