[*Freshman Seminar 51L. Feeling the Heat? The Many Temperatures of Life in a Warming World]

From one’s first thought in the morning (“how hot will it be today?”), to a concern over the future of our climate (“how hot will it be in 2100?”), temperature is a ubiquitous topic in our lives. But what exactly does temperature measure? And of all the temperatures that one might define and measure, which are the important ones? In this seminar we will explore how organisms experience and respond to temperature, investigate the different modes by which plants and animals exchange thermal energy, and ask what strategies have evolved for thermal management. An important feature of temperature responses at any scale is that otherwise gradual changes can be punctuated by abrupt changes of state. This is true for as simple a system as pure water transitioning from solid to liquid to vapor, or as complex as a biome transitioning from forest to grassland to desert. Our goal is to develop, through reading, discussion, in-class experiments, and a field trip to the White Mountains, an “educated intuition” for how life responds to temperature in both predictable and unpredictable ways. Along the way we will touch on a broad array of topics, from human health to the growth of food crops, and consider how these might change as our planet warms.

Notes: There will be a required (moderate) hiking day trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Not offered.

Recommended Prep: There are no prerequisites, and students geared toward either the humanities or sciences are welcome.






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Freshman Seminars

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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2019-2020 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
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