This post initially appeared on Science Blogs

For the past 3 years, I've had the opportunity to spend a week in a house on a beautiful lake in Vermont. Usually, this week is a chance to completely unplug. I take some photos, buy a bunch of books from Northshire and read them, and lounge around. On this past trip however, I received and e-mail that was equal parts wonderful, exciting and terrifying, offering me an opportunity to teach a course at Emerson College.

The course is SC-214 - Plagues and Pandemics. From the catalogue:

Infectious diseases are a leading worldwide cause of human death. This course will describe and discuss the role, origins, spread, and impact of infectious diseases. By examining how the human immune system guards against infectious disease students will gain an understanding of the complex interaction between host and pathogen. This foundation will be a launching point or discussion of topics such as the rise of drug resistant microbes, advances in diagnostic and vaccine development, the socio-economic and political factors involved in disease progression, food preservation and safety, and the use of microbes and microbial products in bioterrorism.

Sounds right up my alley right?

Emerson College is focused on performing arts and communication, so for many of the students, this course will be the only science course they take in college. I'm afraid that many of them view science as too hard or too inaccessible, and I want to use this course to try to change their minds. I'm under no illusions that I'm going to make any of them actually want to be scientists, but I'm hoping to at least make them science-literate (and interested enough to maybe read some science blogs).

This course is also going to be an incredible amount of work - I'm designing the syllabus from the ground up  and creating my own lectures, exams, quizes etc. Rather than use this as an excuse to neglect my blogging, however, I'm going to try something a bit new - I'm going to do a write-up of each class, including my power-points, insights from class discussions and links to the readings and additional information. I'll even post the quizes and exams if anyone is interested. The downside is that I probably won't be doing any regular blogging for the next 3 months, but the upside is that I'll be posting twice a week, which is far more than I've been blogging lately anyway.

I'd also be grateful for your suggestions and critiques. This will be my first time running a class, and I want to make it awesome.

The syllabus is still a work in progress, but the most recent incarnation is here. The tentative course schedule with topics is below. The first class is September 6th.




1 Thurs 9/6

Course Intro

Why is Science Awesome?

What is a Pandemic?

2 Tues 9/11

Intro to Evolution

Basic Biology

Bacteria and Parasites

3 Thurs 9/13

More Evolution

Cell Biology

Biology of Viruses

4 Tues 9/18

Why Pathogens Love Cities

Living with Livestock

Understanding Data #1 (Myxo in Australia)

5 Thurs 9/20

The Red Queen

Evolution of Sex

6 Tues 9/25

A Pox on Everyone

The Immune System

Vaccination: Why it Works

7 Thurs 9/27

More on the Immune System

Vaccination: Why it Doesn’t Work

Understanding Data #2 (Wakefield et. al.)

8 Tues 10/2

Influenza: Biology and History

1918 Spanish Flu

Yearly Epidemics

9 Thurs 10/4

Swine Flu and Bird Flu

Reviewing the Headlines #1 (2012 Flu controversy)


Tues 10/9

No Class

(Columbus Day)


Thurs 10/11

Exam 1 (Midterm)


Tues 10/16

HIV: History and Biology


Thurs 10/18

Guest Lecturer: Abbie Smith


Tues 10/23

Bacterial infections in the Western World

Cholera is Shitty

Toxin Vaccinology


Thurs 10/25

Antibiotics and resistance

Reviewing the Headlines #2 (E. coli O104:H4)


Tues 10/30

Of Pests and Pestis

Animal Vectors

The Black Plague

Understanding data #3 (??)


Thurs 11/1

Guest Lecturer: Abbie Newby-Kew


Tues 11/6

The Curious Biology of Malaria

and Other Ways Mosquitoes Suck

Reviewing the Headlines #2 (West Nile)


Thurs 11/8

Guest Lecturer: Matt Woodruff

Why is it so hard to make a Malaria Vaccine?


Tues 11/13

From Anthrax...

Emerging Threats and Bioterrorism

Reviewing the Headlines #3


Thurs 11/15

… to Botox

Harnessing Pathogens to do Our Bidding


Tues 11/20

The Future of Disease


Thurs 11/22

No Class (Thanksgiving)


Tues 11/27

Review and Overview


Thurs 11/29

Exam 2 (Final)


Tues 12/4

Media Presentations


Thurs 12/6

Media Presentations


Tues 12/11

Media Presentations


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