Scribner Seminar Program
Under the Influence: Alcohol in Science and Society
Instructor(s): Nurcan Atalan-Helicke, Environmental Science; Reba Howard, Chemistry
How has alcohol—one of the simplest molecules—come to influence so many aspects of human health and civilization? Many cultures have produced and consumed alcohol for medicinal or recreational purposes since ancient times, and our sensitivity to its effects may trace back through evolution as far as early microbes. Although it remains a useful sterilizing agent, alcohol is also the cause of serious global medical and economic costs, most associated with the serious dangers of both acute and chronic drinking. We will explore the historic and present-day implications of this influential and heavily regulated commodity, from the beverages industry to biofuels. Students will explore a wide range of alcohol-related topics through periodic joint presentations combining the broad peer perspectives in two Scribner Seminars. In addition, each Seminar section will provide students with frequent opportunities to explore both natural science and social science approaches to class topics, through small-group exercises and discussions led by faculty uniquely experienced in each area. Students will also benefit from field experiences of wine and biofuel production in the New York region. Other topics include chemical properties, fermentation, short- and long-term effects on the brain and body, economics, and policy issues related to alcohol in human civilization.