Environment and Sustainability

Explorations of a Field Biologist  –  Sheila Schueller
There are so many different kinds of living organisms in this world, and every organism interacts with its physical environment and with other organisms. Understanding this mass of interactions and how humans are affecting them is a mind-boggling endeavor! We cannot do this unless we at times set aside our computers and beakers, and instead, get out of the lab and classroom and into the field, which is what we will do in THIS course. Through our explorations of grasslands, forests, and wetlands of southeastern Michigan, you will learn many natural history facts (from identifying a turkey vulture to learning how mushrooms relate to tree health). You will also practice all the steps of doing science in the field, including making careful observations, testing a hypothesis, sampling and measuring, and analyzing and presenting results. We will address question such as: How do field mice decide where to eat? Are aquatic insects affected by water chemistry? Does flower shape matter to bees? How do lakes turn into forests? Learning how to observe nature with patience and an inquisitive mind, and then testing your ideas about what you observe will allow you, long after this class, to discover many more things about nature, even your own back yard. Most days will be all-day field trips, including hands-on experience in restoration ecology. Towards the end of the course you will design, carry out, and present your own research project.

Life, Death and Change: Landscapes and Human Impact  –  David Michener
 You’ll never see the same world quite the same way after this course – which is important if you want to make a difference with your life. All environmental studies presume a landscape- yet what seems to be a simple landscape is often far from uniform or stable. A great deal of information critical to anyone entering the “green” sciences can be detected for analysis- including factors that may fundamentally control species diversity, habitat richness, and animal (let alone human) behavior. Resolving human from non-human agency is an engaging and important challenge, too -one scientists and “green professionals” grapple with repeatedly. This outdoor class immerses students in real-world landscapes, ranging from the nearly-pristine to the highly humanized, to solve problems which may initially appear impossible to address. You can! Your critical thinking skills are essential rather than prior biological course and field work. Come prepared to look, measure, analyze, discus and learn how the interaction of plants, soils, climate and time (and humans) influences landscape development. Develop basic skills in plant recognition and identification – skills that you can transfer to other terrestrial communities. Address questions about the current vegetation, its stability over time and its future prospects. Gain practical insights into the realities of biological conservation as we address how we can manage species and landscapes for future generations. By the end you’ll have a conceptual skill set that helps you assess how stable and disturbed are the “natural” areas near your home and prepares you to put instructors on the spot in college classes to come.

Sustainable Polymers  –  Anne McNeil
From grocery bags and food packaging to contact lenses and therapeutics, there is no doubt that polymers have had a positive impact in our lives. Most of these polymers are made from petroleum-based feedstocks, which are dwindling in supply. And although some plastics are recycled, most of them end up contaminating our lands and oceans. Through hands-on lab work and interactive lessons, this class will introduce the future of polymer science – that is: polymers made from sustainable materials that ultimately biodegrade! Students will conduct research experiments to make, analyze, and degrade renewable plastics. We will also examine commercial biodegradable materials and plastics used for energy and environmental remediation, and practice science communication through a creative stop-motion animation project.