Environmental Science Major

The major in Environmental Science brings together core courses in Environmental Studies with relevant coursework in a specific scientific discipline. The goal of the major in Environmental Science is to provide training in one of the natural sciences as well as an understanding of the complex array of natural, social and political factors involved in environmental issues.

Five courses are common to all Environmental Science majors; there is also a methods requirement and three disciplinary tracks, each comprised of five additional courses. The three disciplinary tracks are a) Environmental Biology, b) Environmental Chemistry, and c) Environmental Geoscience.

Students majoring in Environmental Science should investigate the courses required for their chosen track and consult their advisor to plan an appropriate schedule for completing the major, including any prerequisites not listed below. Courses cannot be double–counted within the major; for example, a course used to fulfill the methods requirement cannot also be used as an elective. The availability of required courses may vary slightly from year to year, and substitutions may be authorized occasionally by the Director of CES. Students seeking to place out of particular courses on the basis of AP, IB or A–level exams should consult the Director.

Read a full description of the program http://web.williams.edu/admin/registrar//catalog/index.html

Core Courses (Required)

ENVI 101(F)Nature and Society: An Introduction to Environmental Studies

This course introduces environmental studies as an interdisciplinary field of learning. It will provide a survey of a broad range of environmental problems, cases, and questions, from climate change to sustainable agriculture, from toxic waste to species extinction. We will also examine the intellectual traditions, authors, and historical developments that have most profoundly shaped our understanding of these issues. Keeping a constant eye on the complexities of life in the twenty-first century, we will explore the many different theories and methods that inform environmental scholarship, activism, and policy-making in a variety of cultural arenas and across geographical scales. Along the way, we will read works by philosophers, economists, journalists, historians, sociologists, and many others. [ more ]

ENVI 102(S)Introduction to Environmental Science

Environmental science is the interdisciplinary study of the Earth's systems through the synthesis of physical, chemical, geological, and biological perspectives. This course introduces students to the scientific methods used to assess human impacts on the environment. This is important because with the human population expected to grow to more than nine billion people by 2050, we will continue to struggle to find ways to solve, or at least mitigate, the growing environmental consequences of our activities. In this course, we will take a problem-oriented approach to environmental science, focusing on five key questions: 1) Do we have sufficient material resources for the future world population? 2) How can we feed our growing population? 3) How can this population maintain a clean environment? 4) Do we have sufficient sustainable energy resources for a growing population? and 5) How will this growing population change our planet? Over the course of this semester, we will explore the science necessary to understand the underlying environmental systems involved and to develop effective scientific and policy solutions. We will also touch on how science can (and cannot) influence broader issues associated with complex environmental problems. Field and laboratory exercises will generate data that students will analyze, interpret and compare to historic data sets. Students will design and complete an independent project on an environmental science topic of their choice. [ more ]

BIOL 203 / ENVI 203(F)Ecology

This course combines lectures with field and indoor laboratory exercises to explore factors that determine the distribution and abundance of plants and animals in natural systems. The course begins with an overall view of global patterns and then builds from the population to the ecosystem level. An emphasis is given to basic ecological principles and relates them to current environmental issues. Selected topics include population dynamics (competition, predation, mutualism); community interactions (succession, food chains and diversity) and ecosystem function (biogeochemical cycles, energy flow). [ more ]

ENVI 302(F)Environmental Planning

This interdisciplinary course introduces the theories, approaches, methodologies, and legal framework of environmental planning and provides students with experience in the planning process through project work in the Berkshire region. The first part of the course introduces the students to planning literature through analysis and discussion of case studies. In the second part of the course students tackle an actual planning problem. Small teams of students, working in conjunction with a client in the community and under supervision of the instructor, conduct a planning project, using all the tools of an environmental planner. The project work draws on students' academic training, extracurricular activities, and applies interdisciplinary knowledge and methodologies. The course includes several class presentations and culminates in a public presentation of each team's planning study. This course also includes field trips, town meetings, interviews, survey work, and computer mapping labs. [ more ]

ENVI 402 / MAST 402(S)Senior Seminar: Perspectives on Environmental Studies

The Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies programs provide students with an opportunity to explore the myriad ways in which humans interact with diverse environments at scales ranging from local to global. As the capstone course for Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies, this seminar will bring together students who will have specialized in the humanities, social studies and/or the sciences and will provide an opportunity for exchange across these disciplinary streams. Readings and discussion will be organized around the common theme of climate change. Over the course of the seminar, students will develop a sustained independent research project on a topic of their choice. [ more ]

Environmental Studies Methods Courses

STAT 201(F, S)Statistics and Data Analysis

Statistics can be viewed as the art and science of turning data into information. Real world decision-making, whether in business or science is often based on data and the perceived information it contains. Sherlock Holmes, when prematurely asked the merits of a case by Dr. Watson, snapped back, "Data, data, data! I can't make bricks without clay." In this course, we will study the basic methods by which statisticians attempt to extract information from data. These will include many of the standard tools of statistical inference such as hypothesis testing, confidence intervals, and linear regression as well as exploratory and graphical data analysis techniques. This is an accelerated introductory statistics course that involves computational programming and incorporates modern statistical techniques. [ more ]

GEOS 214 / ENVI 214(S)Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems

This class provides a practical look at fast-evolving methods used to integrate information about the Earth's surface with spatial data collected by disciplines such as archaeology, economics, the field sciences, history and political science. Remote sensing involves collection and processing of data from satellite and airborne sensors to yield environmental information about the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere. Remote sensing allows regional mapping of rock materials, analysis of vegetation cover and measurement of urban areas and land-use change over time. A Geographic Information System (GIS) links satellite-based environmental measurements with spatial data such as topography, transportation networks, and political boundaries, allowing display and quantitative analysis at the same scale using the same geographic reference. This course covers concepts of remote-data capture and geographic rectification using a Global Positioning System (GPS), as well as principles of remote sensing, including linear and non-linear image enhancements, convolution filtering, and image classification. Principles of GIS include display and classification, spatial buffers, logical overlays and techniques of spatial analysis. Weekly labs focus on training in the application of techniques using data from the region and other areas of North America. [ more ]

STAT 231 TStatistical Design of Experiments

Not offered this year

What does statistics have to do with designing and carrying out experiments? The answer is, surprisingly perhaps, a great deal. In this course, we will study how to design an experiment with the fewest number of observations possible to achieve a certain power. We will also learn how to analyze and present the resulting data and draw conclusions. After reviewing basic statistical theory and two sample comparisons, we cover one and two-way ANOVA and (fractional) factorial designs extensively. The culmination of the course will be a project where each student designs, carries out, analyzes, and presents an experiment of interest to him or her. Throughout the course, we will use the free statistical software program R to carry out the statistical analysis. [ more ]

ECON 255(F, S)Econometrics

An introduction to the theory and practice of applied quantitative economic analysis. This course familiarizes students with the strengths and weaknesses of the basic empirical methods used by economists to evaluate economic theory against economic data. Emphasizes both the statistical foundations of regression techniques and the practical application of those techniques in empirical research. Computer exercises will provide experience in using the empirical methods, but no previous computer experience is expected. Highly recommended for students considering graduate training in economics or public policy. [ more ]

CHEM 364 / ENVI 364(F, S)Instrumental Methods of Analysis

This course provides the student an understanding of the applicability of current laboratory instrumentation both to the elucidation of fundamental chemical phenomena and to the measurement of certain atomic and molecular parameters. Student will gain knowledge and understanding of the theory and practical use of a variety of instrumental techniques; including, but not limited to, chromatography, mass spectrometry, thermal methods, electroanalytical techniques, atomic and molecular absorption and emission spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, and optical and electron microscopies, with examples drawn from the current literature. Analytical chemical and instrumental techniques will be developed in the lecture and extensively applied within the laboratory. These skills are useful in a wide variety of scientific areas. Through exploration of primary literature and review articles we will discuss recent developments in instrumental methods and advances in the approaches used to address modern analytical questions. [ more ]

Taught by: Patrick Barber

Catalog details

MATH 410 T / BIOL 214(S)Mathematical Ecology

Using mathematics to study natural phenomena has become ubiquitous over the past couple of decades. In this tutorial, we will study mathematical models comprised of both deterministic and stochastic differential equations that are developed to understand ecological dynamics and, in many cases, evaluate the dynamical consequences of policy decisions. We will learn how to understand these models through both standard analytic techniques such as stability and bifurcation analysis as well as through simulation using computer programs such as MATLAB. Possible topics include fisheries management, disease ecology, control of invasive species, and predicting critical transitions in ecological systems. [ more ]

Environmental Biology Track Electives

Group A

BIOL 302 / ENVI 312(F)Communities and Ecosystems

An advanced ecology course that examines how species interact with each other and their environment with a focus on conservation implications. This course emphasizes phenomena that emerge in complex ecological systems, building on the fundamental concepts of population biology, community ecology, and ecosystem science. This foundation will be used to understand specific topics relevant to conservation including the functional significance of diversity for ecosystem stability and processes. Lectures and labs will explore how to characterize the emergent properties of communities and ecosystems, and how theoretical, comparative, and experimental approaches are used to understand their structure and function. The lab component of this course will emphasize hypothesis-oriented field experiments but will also include some laboratory microcosm experiments. The laboratory component of the course will culminate with a self-designed independent or group project. [ more ]

BIOL 305(S)Evolution

This course offers a critical analysis of contemporary concepts in biological evolution. We focus on the relation of evolutionary mechanisms (e.g., selection, drift, and migration) to long term evolutionary patterns (e.g., evolutionary innovations, origin of major groups, and the emergence of diversity). Topics include micro-evolutionary models, natural selection and adaptation, sexual selection, speciation, the inference of evolutionary history among others. [ more ]

BIOL 308Integrative Plant Biology: Fundamentals and New Frontiers

Not offered this year

Plants are one of the most successful groups of organisms on Earth and have a profound impact on all life. Successful use of plants in addressing global problems and understanding their role in natural ecosystems depends on fundamental knowledge of the molecular mechanisms by which they grow, develop, and respond to their environment. This course will examine the molecular physiology of plants using an integrative approach that considers plants as dynamic, functional units in their environment. Major emphasis will be on understanding fundamental plant processes, such as photosynthesis, growth and development, water transport, hormone physiology, and flowering, from the molecular to the organismal level. Environmental effects on these processes will be addressed in topics including photomorphogenesis, stress physiology, mineral nutrition, and plant-microbe interactions. Discussions of original research papers will examine the mechanisms plants use to perform these processes and explore advances in the genetic engineering of plants for agricultural, environmental, and medical purposes. Laboratory activities stress modern approaches and techniques used in investigating plant physiological processes. [ more ]

MAST 311 / BIOL 231(F, S)Marine Ecology

Using the principles of evolutionary biology and experimental ecology, this course examines the processes that control the diversity, abundance and distribution of marine organisms. Major marine communities, including estuaries, the rocky shore, sandy beaches, salt marshes, coral reefs, and the deep sea are discussed in detail. [ more ]

BIOL 315(F)Microbiology: Diversity, Cellular Physiology, and Interactions

Bioterrorism and the alarming spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria are but two of the reasons for the resurgence of interest in the biology of microorganisms. This course will examine microbes from the perspectives of cell structure and function, genomics, and evolution. A central theme will be the adaptation of bacteria as they evolve to fill specific ecological niches, with an emphasis on microbe:host interactions that lead to pathogenesis. We will consider communication among bacteria as well as between bacteria and their environment. Topics include: microbial development, population dynamics, bioremediation, plant and animal defenses against infection, and bacterial strategies to subvert the immune system. In the lab, major projects will focus on horizontal gene transfer, metagenomics, and the isolation and characterization of bacteria from natural environments. Students will also use flow cytometry to investigate fundamental aspects of the mammalian immune system. The lab experience will culminate in multi-week independent investigations. Readings will be supplemented by articles from the primary literature. [ more ]

CHEM 341 / ENVI 341Toxicology and Cancer

Not offered this year

What is a poison and what makes it poisonous? Paracelcus commented in 1537: "What is not a poison? All things are poisons (and nothing is without poison). The dose alone keeps a thing from being a poison." Is the picture really this bleak; is modern technology-based society truly swimming in a sea of toxic materials? How are the nature and severity of toxicity established, measured and expressed? Do all toxic materials exert their effect in the same manner, or can materials be poisonous in a variety of different ways? Are the safety levels set by regulatory agencies low enough for a range of common toxic materials, such as mercury, lead, and certain pesticides? How are poisons metabolized and how do they lead to the development of cancer? What is cancer and what does it take to cause it? What biochemical defense mechanisms exist to counteract the effects of poisons?
This course attempts to answer these questions by surveying the fundamentals of modern chemical toxicology and the induction and progression of cancer. Topics will range from description and quantitation of the toxic response, including risk assessment, to the basic mechanisms underlying toxicity, mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, and DNA repair.
[ more ]

CHEM 364 / ENVI 364(F, S)Instrumental Methods of Analysis

This course provides the student an understanding of the applicability of current laboratory instrumentation both to the elucidation of fundamental chemical phenomena and to the measurement of certain atomic and molecular parameters. Student will gain knowledge and understanding of the theory and practical use of a variety of instrumental techniques; including, but not limited to, chromatography, mass spectrometry, thermal methods, electroanalytical techniques, atomic and molecular absorption and emission spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, and optical and electron microscopies, with examples drawn from the current literature. Analytical chemical and instrumental techniques will be developed in the lecture and extensively applied within the laboratory. These skills are useful in a wide variety of scientific areas. Through exploration of primary literature and review articles we will discuss recent developments in instrumental methods and advances in the approaches used to address modern analytical questions. [ more ]

Taught by: Patrick Barber

Catalog details

MATH 410 T / BIOL 214(S)Mathematical Ecology

Using mathematics to study natural phenomena has become ubiquitous over the past couple of decades. In this tutorial, we will study mathematical models comprised of both deterministic and stochastic differential equations that are developed to understand ecological dynamics and, in many cases, evaluate the dynamical consequences of policy decisions. We will learn how to understand these models through both standard analytic techniques such as stability and bifurcation analysis as well as through simulation using computer programs such as MATLAB. Possible topics include fisheries management, disease ecology, control of invasive species, and predicting critical transitions in ecological systems. [ more ]

BIOL 422 / ENVI 422(F)Ecology of Sustainable Agriculture

A seminar/field course investigating patterns, processes, and concepts of stability in human-dominated, food production ecosystems. As a capstone course, the course will draw upon the experiences that students have had in biology and environmental studies courses. Topics will include: the relationships among diversity, ecosystem function, sustainability, resilience, and stability of food production, distribution systems, nutrient pools and processing in human dominated ecosystems. Two extensive field trips will be taken to agricultural operations in the region. Each student will present a seminar on a topic requiring extensive reading of primary resources and is responsible for leading the discussion that ensues. Reading question paper assignments will be due prior to the seminar. Criticism paper assignments will be made at approximately bi-weekly intervals and due two days after the seminar to which they relate. [ more ]

Group B

GEOS 101 / ENVI 105The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life

Not offered this year

Our planet is about 4.6 billion years old and has supported life for at least the last 3.5 billion of those years. This course will consider the inter-related nature of Earth and the life that inhabits it, starting with the first living organisms and progressing to the interaction of our own species with the Earth today. Students will investigate the dynamic nature of the Earth-life system, examine many of its feedbacks, and learn about the dramatic changes that have occurred throughout the history of the Earth. We will ask questions such as: How did the Earth facilitate biologic evolution, and what effects did those biologic events have on the physical Earth? When did photosynthesis evolve, how can we detect that in the rock record, and how did this biological event lead to profound changes in the environment? How and why did animals evolve and what role did environmental change play in the radiation of animal life? How did the rise and radiation of land plants affect world climate? How do plate tectonics, glaciation, and volcanism influence biodiversity and evolutionary innovation? What caused mass extinctions in the past and what can that teach us about our current extinction crisis? Labs will involve hands-on analysis of rocks, fossils, and real-world data as well as conceptual and analytical exercises; field trips will contextualize major events in Earth history and will help students learn to read the rock record. Through these investigations, the class will provide a comprehensive overview of Earth history, with special attention paid to the geological and paleontological history of the northeastern United States. [ more ]

BIOL 102(S)The Organism

This course focuses upon the developmental and evolutionary processes that have given rise to a wide diversity of multicellular organisms. We consider many levels of biological organization, from molecular and cellular to individuals and populations in our examination of evolutionary concepts. Topics include meiosis and sexual reproduction, developmental and evolutionary mechanisms, and speciation with representative examples from a diversity of plants and animals. Readings are drawn from a variety of sources, including the recent primary literature. [ more ]

GEOS 103 / ENVI 103(F)Global Warming and Natural Disasters

The destruction caused by recent storms such as Irene and Sandy, devastation of prolonged drought in the African Sahel, catastrophic flooding and mudslides in SE Asia and sea level encroachment on the Alaska coast are visible examples of natural disasters that may be modulated by climate change. Global climate change, together with environmental degradation and the explosive growth of urban areas, has the potential to increase the severity and impact of natural disasters. In this course we globally examine geological and climatological processes that "set up" natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, landslides, droughts, extreme temperatures, and coastal surges, as well as the processes that condition availability of water resources. We study in detail the causes and anticipated consequences of human alteration of global climate and its impact on the spectrum of natural hazards and resources. During laboratory sessions we use local field sites and computer models to analyze recent disasters/hazards, trends in weather and climate and options for mitigating future impacts. [ more ]

MAST 104 / ENVI 104 / GEOS 104(S)Oceanography

The oceans cover about 72% of Earth's surface, yet we know the surface of Venus better than our own ocean floors. Why is that? This integrated introduction to the oceans covers formation and history of the ocean basins; the composition and origin of seawater; currents, tides, and waves; ocean-atmosphere interactions; oceans and climate; deep-marine environments; coastal processes; productivity in the oceans; and human impacts. Coastal oceanography will be investigated on an all-day field trip, hosted by the Williams-Mystic program in Connecticut. [ more ]

BIOL 134 / ENVI 134(S)The Tropics: Biology and Social Issues

Intended for the non-scientist, this course explores the biological dimensions of social issues in tropical societies, and focuses on specifically on the peoples and cultures of tropical regions in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceanea, and the Caribbean. Tropical issues have become prominent on a global scale, and many social issues in the tropics are inextricably bound to human ecology, evolution, and physiology. The course begins with a survey of the tropical environment of humans, including major climatic and habitat features. The next section focuses on human population biology, and emphasizes demography and the role of disease particularly malaria and AIDS. The final part of the course covers the place of human societies in local and global ecosystems including the challenges of tropical food production, the importance of organic diversity, and the interaction of humans with their supporting ecological environment. This course fulfills the EDI requirement. Through lectures, debates and readings, students confront social issues in the tropics from the perspective of biologist. This builds a framework for lifelong exploration of human diversity. [ more ]

MAST 211 / GEOS 210(F, S)Oceanographic Processes

This course examines ocean and coastal environmental science issues including carbon dioxide and the ocean's role in climate, El Ni?o and other ocean-atmosphere oscillations that influence our weather, coastal erosion and other hazards, coastal pollution, and fisheries. The focus is on controlling processes with regional comparisons. Blue water oceanography is conducted in the Atlantic and comparative coastal oceanography includes trips to southern New England shores, and the West and Gulf coasts of the US as part of the Williams-Mystic program. [ more ]

GEOS 215 / ENVI 215Climate Changes

Not offered this year

In recent years, there has been a growing public and scientific interest in the Earth's climate and its variability. This interest reflects both concern over future climate changes resulting from anthropogenic increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and growing recognition of the economic impact of "natural" climate variability (for example, El Ni?o events), especially in the developing world. Efforts to understand the Earth's climate system and predict future climate changes require both study of parameters controlling present day climate and detailed studies of climate changes in the past. In this course, we will review the processes that control the Earth's climate, like insolation, the greenhouse effect, ocean circulation, configuration of continents, and positive and negative feedbacks. At the same time, we will review the geological record of climate changes in the past, examining their causes. Laboratory exercises and problem sets will emphasize developing problem solving skills and using quantitative analyses to assess if a given explanation is possible and reasonable. These exercises will include developing and applying numerical models of the radiative balance of earth and the carbon cycle. [ more ]

BIOL 220 / ENVI 220(S)Field Botany and Plant Natural History

This field-lecture course covers the evolutionary and ecological relationships among plant groups represented in our local and regional flora. Lectures focus on the evolution of the land plants, the most recent and revolutionary developments in plant systemics and phylogeny, and characteristics of plant families and cultural and economic uses of plants, native species. The labs cover field identification, natural history, and ecology of local species. [ more ]

MAST 226 T / ENVI 226 / GEOS 226The Oceans and Climate

Not offered this year

The oceans are a fundamental part of Earth's climate system. Ocean currents redistribute heat and water vapor around the globe, controlling temperature and precipitation patterns. Marine phytoplankton blooms and air-sea gas exchange modulate the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. The dynamic interaction of the atmosphere and the sea surface results in multi-year climate variations such as the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation. This course will examine gradual and abrupt climate shifts from Earth's history and the ocean's role in driving, amplifying or dampening the changes, the ocean's response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the projected impacts of continued emissions and climate change on the ocean in the coming decades and millennia. We will analyze articles from the scientific literature that lay out the theory on the ocean's influence on climate, reconstruct past climate and ocean changes, test the mechanisms responsible for those changes, and with that knowledge, project the consequences of continued anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Topics may include the climate effects of opening and closing seaways with plate tectonics, ocean feedbacks that amplify the intensity of ice ages, the instability of ocean circulation during ice-sheet retreat, the evolution of the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation with changing carbon dioxide through the geologic past and the next century, ocean heat and carbon dioxide uptake during the last century and into the future, and the impact on sea level, seafloor methane reservoirs, ocean acidification, oxygenation and marine ecosystems. [ more ]

GEOS 314 / ENVI 314(S)Sediment Records of Climate Change

Sediments and sedimentary rocks may appear unassuming but they are an extraordinarily rich archive of Earth's geologic history, including Earth's past climate. In the first half of this class, we will survey techniques of stratigraphic analysis and dating of sediments, including paleomagnetism, seismic stratigraphy, biozones, and radioisotope methods. In the second half, we will survey the wide variety of methods for reconstructing past climate from sediments including the composition and texture of the sediment, the assemblage of fossils, and the elemental and isotope chemistry of sediment components. These are used to reconstruct many climatic parameters from the past, including the temperature and salinity of seawater, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, ocean circulation, sea ice distribution, global terrestrial ice volume, terrestrial biomes, and in some cases, seasonal to interannual climate variability. In labs and independent projects, students will apply these tools to a collection of sediment samples spanning eight million years from the warm Miocene to the present collected from the Monterey Bay region by GEOS 25 during WSP. Students who register for this class are strongly encouraged to take GEOS 25, and are given enrollment preference in that course. [ more ]

GEOS 405 / ENVI 405(F)Geochemistry: Understanding Earth's Environment

Rocks, water, air, life: what comprises these interconnected components of the Earth system? How do they interact today, and how did these interactions differ in the past? In this course we will study how chemical elements are distributed in the Earth, cycle through the Earth system, and act together to produce a planet that is habitable. As Earth's landscapes and oceans, and the life they harbor, have evolved through time, they have left an imprint in the geological record that we can read using geochemical tools such as molecular fossils, elemental ratios, and stable and radioactive isotopes. Topics include the synthesis of elements in stars, the formation and differentiation of planet Earth; radiometric dating; the major constituents of the atmosphere, rain, rocks, rivers and the ocean; how they're linked by chemical weathering and biological activity; and reconstruction of past environments. Students will explore these topics through lecture; reading and discussing articles from the scientific literature; and collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from environmental samples. [ more ]

Environmental Chemistry Track Electives

Group A

CHEM 151(F)Intoductory Chemistry

This course provides an introduction to chemistry for those students with at most one year of chemistry at the high school level. Students will be introduced to concepts fundamental to studying matter at the molecular level. Principal topics include introductions to the nature of atoms and molecules, stoichiometry, solubility rules and equilibria, gas laws, chemical equilibrium, acid-base reactions, periodic relationships, chemical bonding, molecular structure, intermolecular forces, oxidation-reduction reactions, and related applications. Laboratory work comprises a system of qualitative analysis and quantitative techniques. The course provides preparation for further study of organic chemistry, biochemistry, physical and inorganic chemistry and is intended for students who are anticipating professional study in chemistry, in related sciences, or in one of the health professions, as well as for those students who are interested in exploring the fundamental ideas of chemistry as part of their general education. [ more ]

CHEM 153(F)Concepts of Chemistry

This course furthers the foundation in chemistry for students who have had one year or more of chemistry at the high school level. Familiarity with stoichiometry, basic concepts of equilibria, and the model of an atom is expected. Principal topics for this course include kinetic theory of gases, modern atomic theory, molecular structure and bonding, states of matter, chemical equilibrium (acid-base and solubility), and an introduction to atomic and molecular spectroscopies. Laboratory work includes synthesis, qualitative and quantitative chemical analysis, and molecular modeling. The course is of interest to students who anticipate professional study in chemistry, related sciences, or one of the health professions, as well as to those who want to explore the fundamental ideas of chemistry as part of their general education. [ more ]

CHEM 155(F)Principles of Modern Chemistry

This course is intended for students with strong preparation in secondary school chemistry, for example through advanced placement courses (or equivalent) and laboratory experience. Topics include chemical thermodynamics, kinetics, structure and bonding, coordination chemistry, electrochemistry and spectroscopy and their application to fields such as materials science, industrial, environmental, biological, and medicinal chemistry. Laboratory work includes synthesis, characterization, and reactivity of coordination complexes, electrochemical analysis, materials chemistry, qualitative analysis, and molecular modeling. This course is of interest for students who are anticipating professional study in chemistry, related sciences, or one of the health professions, as well as for students who want to explore the fundamental ideas of chemistry as part of their general education. [ more ]

Group B

CHEM 155(F)Principles of Modern Chemistry

This course is intended for students with strong preparation in secondary school chemistry, for example through advanced placement courses (or equivalent) and laboratory experience. Topics include chemical thermodynamics, kinetics, structure and bonding, coordination chemistry, electrochemistry and spectroscopy and their application to fields such as materials science, industrial, environmental, biological, and medicinal chemistry. Laboratory work includes synthesis, characterization, and reactivity of coordination complexes, electrochemical analysis, materials chemistry, qualitative analysis, and molecular modeling. This course is of interest for students who are anticipating professional study in chemistry, related sciences, or one of the health professions, as well as for students who want to explore the fundamental ideas of chemistry as part of their general education. [ more ]

CHEM 156(S)Organic Chemistry: Introductory Level

This course provides the necessary background in organic chemistry for students who are planning advanced study or a career in chemistry, the biological sciences, or the health professions. It initiates the systematic study of the common classes of organic compounds with emphasis on theories of structure and reactivity. The fundamentals of molecular modeling as applied to organic molecules are presented. Specific topics include basic organic structure and bonding, isomerism, stereochemistry, molecular energetics, the theory and interpretation of infrared and nuclear magnetic spectroscopy, substitution and elimination reactions, and the addition reactions of alkenes and alkynes. The coordinated laboratory work includes purification and separation techniques, structure-reactivity studies, organic synthesis, IR and NMR spectroscopy, and the identification of unknown compounds. [ more ]

CHEM 251(F)Organic Chemistry: Intermediate Level

This course is a continuation of Chemistry 156 and it concludes the systematic study of the common classes of organic compounds with emphasis on theories of structure and reactivity. Specific topics include radical chemistry, an introduction to mass spectrometry and ultraviolet spectroscopy, the theory and chemical reactivity of conjugated and aromatic systems, the concepts of kinetic and thermodynamic control, an extensive treatment of the chemistry of the carbonyl group, alcohols, ethers, polyfunctional compounds, the concept of selectivity, the fundamentals of organic synthesis, an introduction to carbohydrates, carboxylic acids and derivatives, acyl substitution reactions, amines, and an introduction to amino acids, peptides, and proteins. The coordinated laboratory work includes application of the techniques learned in the introductory level laboratory, along with new functional group analyses, to the separation and identification of several unknown samples. Skills in analyzing NMR, IR, and MS data are practiced and further refined. [ more ]

CHEM 255(F)Organic Chemistry: Intermediate Level--Special Laboratory Section

This course is a continuation of CHEM 156 and contains the same material as CHEM 251 except for the laboratory program described below: The aim of this advanced laboratory section is to enrich and enhance the laboratory experiences of motivated students of recognized ability by providing a laboratory program that more closely resembles the unpredictable nature and immediacy of true chemical research. Students synthesize, isolate, and characterize (using a range of modern physical and spectroscopic techniques) a family of unknown materials in a series of experiments constituting an integrated, semester-long investigation. A flexible format is employed in which the students are responsible for helping to plan the course of their laboratory work based upon discussions with the instructor about the previous week's experimental results. Students are drawn from CHEM 156 with placement based upon student selection and nomination by the CHEM 156 instructor. Participants attend their regular CHEM 251 lecture but attend the special laboratory section instead of a CHEM 251 laboratory section. [ more ]

CHEM 256(S)Advanced Chemical Concepts

This course treats an array of topics in modern chemistry, emphasizing broad concepts that connect and weave through the various subdisciplines of the field--biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry. It provides necessary background in chemical science for students who are planning advanced study or a career in chemistry, biological science, geoscience, environmental science, or a health profession. Topics include coordination complexes, thermodynamics, electrochemistry, kinetics, and nuclear chemistry. Laboratory work includes experiments involving synthesis, characterization, and reactivity studies of coordination and organic complexes, spectroscopic analyses, thermodynamics, electrochemistry, kinetics, and nuclear chemistry. [ more ]

CHEM 341 / ENVI 341Toxicology and Cancer

Not offered this year

What is a poison and what makes it poisonous? Paracelcus commented in 1537: "What is not a poison? All things are poisons (and nothing is without poison). The dose alone keeps a thing from being a poison." Is the picture really this bleak; is modern technology-based society truly swimming in a sea of toxic materials? How are the nature and severity of toxicity established, measured and expressed? Do all toxic materials exert their effect in the same manner, or can materials be poisonous in a variety of different ways? Are the safety levels set by regulatory agencies low enough for a range of common toxic materials, such as mercury, lead, and certain pesticides? How are poisons metabolized and how do they lead to the development of cancer? What is cancer and what does it take to cause it? What biochemical defense mechanisms exist to counteract the effects of poisons?
This course attempts to answer these questions by surveying the fundamentals of modern chemical toxicology and the induction and progression of cancer. Topics will range from description and quantitation of the toxic response, including risk assessment, to the basic mechanisms underlying toxicity, mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, and DNA repair.
[ more ]

Environmental Geoscience Track Electives

Group A

GEOS 101 / ENVI 105The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life

Not offered this year

Our planet is about 4.6 billion years old and has supported life for at least the last 3.5 billion of those years. This course will consider the inter-related nature of Earth and the life that inhabits it, starting with the first living organisms and progressing to the interaction of our own species with the Earth today. Students will investigate the dynamic nature of the Earth-life system, examine many of its feedbacks, and learn about the dramatic changes that have occurred throughout the history of the Earth. We will ask questions such as: How did the Earth facilitate biologic evolution, and what effects did those biologic events have on the physical Earth? When did photosynthesis evolve, how can we detect that in the rock record, and how did this biological event lead to profound changes in the environment? How and why did animals evolve and what role did environmental change play in the radiation of animal life? How did the rise and radiation of land plants affect world climate? How do plate tectonics, glaciation, and volcanism influence biodiversity and evolutionary innovation? What caused mass extinctions in the past and what can that teach us about our current extinction crisis? Labs will involve hands-on analysis of rocks, fossils, and real-world data as well as conceptual and analytical exercises; field trips will contextualize major events in Earth history and will help students learn to read the rock record. Through these investigations, the class will provide a comprehensive overview of Earth history, with special attention paid to the geological and paleontological history of the northeastern United States. [ more ]

GEOS 103 / ENVI 103(F)Global Warming and Natural Disasters

The destruction caused by recent storms such as Irene and Sandy, devastation of prolonged drought in the African Sahel, catastrophic flooding and mudslides in SE Asia and sea level encroachment on the Alaska coast are visible examples of natural disasters that may be modulated by climate change. Global climate change, together with environmental degradation and the explosive growth of urban areas, has the potential to increase the severity and impact of natural disasters. In this course we globally examine geological and climatological processes that "set up" natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, landslides, droughts, extreme temperatures, and coastal surges, as well as the processes that condition availability of water resources. We study in detail the causes and anticipated consequences of human alteration of global climate and its impact on the spectrum of natural hazards and resources. During laboratory sessions we use local field sites and computer models to analyze recent disasters/hazards, trends in weather and climate and options for mitigating future impacts. [ more ]

MAST 104 / ENVI 104 / GEOS 104(S)Oceanography

The oceans cover about 72% of Earth's surface, yet we know the surface of Venus better than our own ocean floors. Why is that? This integrated introduction to the oceans covers formation and history of the ocean basins; the composition and origin of seawater; currents, tides, and waves; ocean-atmosphere interactions; oceans and climate; deep-marine environments; coastal processes; productivity in the oceans; and human impacts. Coastal oceanography will be investigated on an all-day field trip, hosted by the Williams-Mystic program in Connecticut. [ more ]

Group B

GEOS 201 / ENVI 205(F)Geomorphology

This course is designed for Geosciences majors and for environmental studies students interested in surficial geologic processes and their importance in shaping the physical environment. Geomorphology is the study of landforms, the processes that shape them and the rates at which surface processes change the landscape. This class emphasizes the influence of climatic, tectonic, and volcanic forces on landform evolution over relatively short periods of geologic time, generally thousands to a few millions of years. At this time scale, the influence of human activity and climate change on landforms may be strong, perhaps dominant, in many geologic environments. Many of our examples analyze human interaction - planned or unplanned-- with geomorphic processes. Labs focus on field measurements of channels and landscapes in the Williamstown area as well as on the analysis of topographic maps and stereo air photos. [ more ]

GEOS 215 / ENVI 215Climate Changes

Not offered this year

In recent years, there has been a growing public and scientific interest in the Earth's climate and its variability. This interest reflects both concern over future climate changes resulting from anthropogenic increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and growing recognition of the economic impact of "natural" climate variability (for example, El Ni?o events), especially in the developing world. Efforts to understand the Earth's climate system and predict future climate changes require both study of parameters controlling present day climate and detailed studies of climate changes in the past. In this course, we will review the processes that control the Earth's climate, like insolation, the greenhouse effect, ocean circulation, configuration of continents, and positive and negative feedbacks. At the same time, we will review the geological record of climate changes in the past, examining their causes. Laboratory exercises and problem sets will emphasize developing problem solving skills and using quantitative analyses to assess if a given explanation is possible and reasonable. These exercises will include developing and applying numerical models of the radiative balance of earth and the carbon cycle. [ more ]

MAST 226 T / ENVI 226 / GEOS 226The Oceans and Climate

Not offered this year

The oceans are a fundamental part of Earth's climate system. Ocean currents redistribute heat and water vapor around the globe, controlling temperature and precipitation patterns. Marine phytoplankton blooms and air-sea gas exchange modulate the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. The dynamic interaction of the atmosphere and the sea surface results in multi-year climate variations such as the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation. This course will examine gradual and abrupt climate shifts from Earth's history and the ocean's role in driving, amplifying or dampening the changes, the ocean's response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the projected impacts of continued emissions and climate change on the ocean in the coming decades and millennia. We will analyze articles from the scientific literature that lay out the theory on the ocean's influence on climate, reconstruct past climate and ocean changes, test the mechanisms responsible for those changes, and with that knowledge, project the consequences of continued anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Topics may include the climate effects of opening and closing seaways with plate tectonics, ocean feedbacks that amplify the intensity of ice ages, the instability of ocean circulation during ice-sheet retreat, the evolution of the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation with changing carbon dioxide through the geologic past and the next century, ocean heat and carbon dioxide uptake during the last century and into the future, and the impact on sea level, seafloor methane reservoirs, ocean acidification, oxygenation and marine ecosystems. [ more ]

Group C

GEOS 205 / ENVI 207(F)Earth Resources

The metal in your soda can, the plastic in your Nalgene, the components of your computer, the glass in your window, the hydrocarbons being burned to keep you warm in the winter or to transport you in cars or aircraft, the cars and aircraft themselves: all are made of materials mined from the Earth. Right now there are more people building more houses, paving more roads, making more vehicles, more electronics, and more plastic packaging--all with geologic materials. As demand soars in both established and growing economies, and as we realize the environmental damage that can result from resource extraction and processing, the importance of understanding Earth's resources increases. Finding new deposits and managing those we have requires insight into the geology that underlies the location and origin of strategic Earth materials. This class introduces the geologic processes that control formation, distribution, and extent of materials reserves: dimension stone and gravel, base and precious metal ores, gemstones, petroleum, nuclear energy sources, and specialty materials for medical, technological, and military uses. [ more ]

GEOS 206 / ENVI 206Renewable Energy and the Sustainable Campus

Not offered this year

Rising oil and electricity costs disrupt the economy and help fuel global insecurity. Extraction of fossil fuels degrades the environment. Clearer understanding of how fossil-fuel consumption contributes to global climate change is increasing the demand for renewable sources of energy and for more sustainable campus environments. What sources of energy will supply Williams College and nearby areas in the twenty-first century? How will campus buildings, old and new, continue to be attractive spaces while making far more efficient use of heat and light? How can the College's operations and purchasing become more sustainable? This course is a practical introduction to renewable sources of energy, including conservation, principles of sustainability, and to their application to the campus environment. Topics covered include: biological sources of energy (biomass, biogas, liquid fuels), wind energy, geothermal and solar energy, energy efficiency and the environmental impacts of using renewable energy. Lectures, field trips and individual projects emphasize examples from the campus and nearby area. [ more ]

MAST 211 / GEOS 210(F, S)Oceanographic Processes

This course examines ocean and coastal environmental science issues including carbon dioxide and the ocean's role in climate, El Ni?o and other ocean-atmosphere oscillations that influence our weather, coastal erosion and other hazards, coastal pollution, and fisheries. The focus is on controlling processes with regional comparisons. Blue water oceanography is conducted in the Atlantic and comparative coastal oceanography includes trips to southern New England shores, and the West and Gulf coasts of the US as part of the Williams-Mystic program. [ more ]

MAST 226 T / ENVI 226 / GEOS 226The Oceans and Climate

Not offered this year

The oceans are a fundamental part of Earth's climate system. Ocean currents redistribute heat and water vapor around the globe, controlling temperature and precipitation patterns. Marine phytoplankton blooms and air-sea gas exchange modulate the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. The dynamic interaction of the atmosphere and the sea surface results in multi-year climate variations such as the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation. This course will examine gradual and abrupt climate shifts from Earth's history and the ocean's role in driving, amplifying or dampening the changes, the ocean's response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the projected impacts of continued emissions and climate change on the ocean in the coming decades and millennia. We will analyze articles from the scientific literature that lay out the theory on the ocean's influence on climate, reconstruct past climate and ocean changes, test the mechanisms responsible for those changes, and with that knowledge, project the consequences of continued anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Topics may include the climate effects of opening and closing seaways with plate tectonics, ocean feedbacks that amplify the intensity of ice ages, the instability of ocean circulation during ice-sheet retreat, the evolution of the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation with changing carbon dioxide through the geologic past and the next century, ocean heat and carbon dioxide uptake during the last century and into the future, and the impact on sea level, seafloor methane reservoirs, ocean acidification, oxygenation and marine ecosystems. [ more ]

GEOS 314 / ENVI 314(S)Sediment Records of Climate Change

Sediments and sedimentary rocks may appear unassuming but they are an extraordinarily rich archive of Earth's geologic history, including Earth's past climate. In the first half of this class, we will survey techniques of stratigraphic analysis and dating of sediments, including paleomagnetism, seismic stratigraphy, biozones, and radioisotope methods. In the second half, we will survey the wide variety of methods for reconstructing past climate from sediments including the composition and texture of the sediment, the assemblage of fossils, and the elemental and isotope chemistry of sediment components. These are used to reconstruct many climatic parameters from the past, including the temperature and salinity of seawater, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, ocean circulation, sea ice distribution, global terrestrial ice volume, terrestrial biomes, and in some cases, seasonal to interannual climate variability. In labs and independent projects, students will apply these tools to a collection of sediment samples spanning eight million years from the warm Miocene to the present collected from the Monterey Bay region by GEOS 25 during WSP. Students who register for this class are strongly encouraged to take GEOS 25, and are given enrollment preference in that course. [ more ]

GEOS 405 / ENVI 405(F)Geochemistry: Understanding Earth's Environment

Rocks, water, air, life: what comprises these interconnected components of the Earth system? How do they interact today, and how did these interactions differ in the past? In this course we will study how chemical elements are distributed in the Earth, cycle through the Earth system, and act together to produce a planet that is habitable. As Earth's landscapes and oceans, and the life they harbor, have evolved through time, they have left an imprint in the geological record that we can read using geochemical tools such as molecular fossils, elemental ratios, and stable and radioactive isotopes. Topics include the synthesis of elements in stars, the formation and differentiation of planet Earth; radiometric dating; the major constituents of the atmosphere, rain, rocks, rivers and the ocean; how they're linked by chemical weathering and biological activity; and reconstruction of past environments. Students will explore these topics through lecture; reading and discussing articles from the scientific literature; and collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from environmental samples. [ more ]