F&ES 623b / 2017-2018

Seminar in Applied Environmental Chemistry: Critical Analysis of Scientific Literature

Credits: 2

Spring 2018: Tu, 4:00-5:30, Kroon 321

This two-credit seminar is designed to enhance students’ ability to critically analyze technical literature in any field.  This is done while exploring the chemical principles underlying the behavior of natural and anthropogenic substances in the environment.  Although the course will sharpen students' understanding of environmental chemistry, the principle goal of the course is to provide students with skills necessary to evaluate scientific literature in general.
          Each week, one student will present a pre-selected document (journal article, government regulation, Environmental Impact Statement, Science Times feature, etc.) for about 30 minutes.  This will be followed by a general discussion, involving the entire class, of the document's subject, chemical basis, methodology, conclusions, viewpoint, ramifications, and quality.  For research articles, issues to be addressed can include the following:
·    What is the importance and generality of the system and problem considered?
·    Is the study site appropriate?  Is the experimental design adequate?  Does the sampling scheme capture necessary spatial and temporal scales?  Are the analytical methods suitable?  What measures are used to ensure data quality?
·    What trends are apparent in the data?  Do the authors faithfully describe their results?  Are there patterns missed by the authors?
·    Are anomalous results dealt with appropriately?  Are statistical methods adequate?
·    Are the conclusions supported by the data?  What alternative interpretations of the results are possible? 
          All media will be taken into account, but aquatic systems will be emphasized, including precipitation, soil moisture, groundwater, streams, lakes, rivers, wetlands, estuaries, and the ocean.  Both pristine and polluted systems will be considered.  Example papers will have broad scope and will examine entire environmental systems (ecosystems, lakes, watersheds, airsheds) and their biological, geological, and chemical subsystems, rather than isolated components.
            Students will be evaluated on their individual presentation, as well as participation in weekly discussions.  Class enrollment is limited, and will be selected to provide a diversity of student expertise in natural and social sciences.