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Disciplinary Case Studies - 2016

For Semester 1 2016 we are featuring disciplinary case studies aligned with "modes of inquiry." Students will take a six week mini-course in each of two groups that feature unified modes of inquiry. These groups include:

Group A - Modes of Inquiry: Observation and Geospatial Mapping. In this group of mini-courses students will observe nature carefully - either with field biology or astronomy, and conduct their own mapping exercise using GIS or astronomical coordinates.

Group B - Modes of Inquiry: Experimentation and Mathematical Modeling. In this group of mini-courses students will conduct their own laboratory experiments and model theoretical quantities mathematically, comparing data with theory.

There will be ten sections of Foundations of Science in Semester 1 2016. These are offered at one of two times - M/Th 1:00-2:20PM, or M/Th 2:30-3:50PM. Students will be assigned to a pair of disciplinary case studies, one from group A and one from group B, based on preferences indicated by an online survey.

The disciplinary case studies are listed below.


Group A: Observation and Geospatial Mapping


Section 1:  Finding a Habitable Planet  - 1:00-2:20PM

Instructor: Bryan Penprase

Description: In this mini-course, students will explore how astronomers have detected other solar systems, using both spectroscopy and photometry. The class will take spectra in the laboratory of emission line sources and the sun, and then use remotely operable telescopes during class time to obtain their own observations of stars, planets, and galaxies. The mapping of the solar system using both planetarium simulation programs, and student observations will provide in-depth experience with astronomical techniques.

Section 2: Island Biogeography - 2:30-3:50PM

Instructor: Jennifer Sheridan

Description: In this unit, we will explore topics of biodiversity, ecology, evolution, biogeography, and conservation, focusing on different types of islands. All class activities and exercises focus on camera trapping in forest fragments around Singapore, and students will contribute to an existing online database, which can be accessed by the Yale-NUS community for individual research projects.

Sections 3 and 4 : Field Ornithology - 1:00-2:20PM and 2:30-4:00

Instructor: Vinod Saranathan

Description: This FoS module will provide students with a thorough introduction to modern perspectives in avian biology, with an emphasis on field-based observational techniques that are used to study bird behaviour, ecology and evolution. Lectures will be supplemented with guided field trips to MacRitchie, Upper Pierce Reservoir, and former Bidadari Cemetery to familiarise the students with field techniques, including radio-telemetry and replicated point counts (census). Topics will  tentatively comprise origin and evolution of birds (briefly), avian flight and feathers, avian reproduction and breeding systems, avian behaviour and communication; avian cognition and neuroanatomy, and bird migration and navigation

Section 5:  Plant functional traits

Instructor: Michiel van Breugel - 2:30-3:50

Description:  We will explore the concept of plant functional traits (PFTs) and how they can be used to study the distribution and diversity of plant species across environmental gradients. PFTs are characteristics that can that are measured from an individual plant (parts) and can be used to compare species. Examples of such traits are the toughness of leaves and seed size. We will learn about tradeoffs between PFTs and what they can tell us about the ecological strategies of species, how this links to the study of forest succession and a bit about agriculture and the domestication of crops from a PFT perspective. In addition, we will discuss some basic principles of the setup of field studies and sampling design and we will collect and analyze our own plant functional trait data in the field.   


Group B - Modes of Inquiry: Experimentation and Mathematical Modeling. 


Sections 6 and 7: Molecular Perspectives

Instructor: Stanislav Presolski - 1:00-2:20 and 2:30-3:50

Description: The fundamental building blocks of everything that surrounds us will be discussed, from simple gases, liquids and solids, through man-made dyes, drugs and plastics, all the way to the chemistry of living things. We will explore the interactions between matter and energy that constitute many of our everyday experiences and employ Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy to gain an even deeper understanding of the molecular world. 

Section 8: Hardware and Software Programming for Interactive Systems Instructor: Simon Perrault  - 1:00-2:20PM

Description: In this unit, students will learn how to design simple interactive systems on both hardware and software. The hardware part will be about electronic circuits, and how to make them interactive by reading/writing specific values to input/output sensors. The software part will cover Arduino programming i.e. how to compute values read from a sensor, how to filter a signal, how to gather data for experiments.

Section 9:  Water and Its Interaction with The Environment

Instructor: Kiat Hwa Chan - 1:00-2:20PM

Description: Water is the basic constituent of life. Understanding how this simple, but critical molecule interacts with the biological environment is the first step toward devising innovative ways of purifying water to cope with worldwide water shortage. Students will be asked to evaluate the efficiencies of various materials to purify water of a dye and bacteria. Students will also design and build simple set-ups to filter the water samples provided. Measurements will be taken to measure dye concentration and bacteria content after filtration. Students will be evaluated on ability to design control experiments, take meaningful measurements, present and interpret data, and draw meaningful conclusions.

Section 10: Phylogenetic Comparative Analysis

Instructor: Eunice Jingmei Tan - 2:30-3:50PM

Description: This section will provide an introduction to evolution and phylogenetic relationships between organisms. The class will include  discussion of selected papers on comparative analyses, and will include a visit to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum to draw inspiration from exhibits, where students will formulate novel testable hypotheses about correlations between organisms and their context. Students will also do a literature search to find relevant molecular phylogenies that can be used as a basis for their analysis. Students will then decide on a testable hypothesis for their final assignment, and will collect data to identify an established molecular phylogeny. The course will also include a workshop where we use open source software for the phylogenetic comparative analyses, an analysis using the data they have collected and molecular phylogenies from the literature.