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The Drama of Science
Durham, NC - The first semester chemist Richard Palmer and historian Sy Mauskopf taught the Science and Drama course, students took to calling them "Click and Clack" because their classroom interactions reminded them of the popular car repair radio stars.
"We taught the class together for two years, and it was so much fun," Palmer said. "And one of the reasons is because it's always fun teaching with Sy Mauskopf. He is such a fountain of knowledge of the history of science, and he's taught a lot of undergraduate seminars, and is a real master teacher. We played off each other very well."
His career has always been in chemistry, but Palmer's love of theater goes back even further. After he joined the Duke faculty 40 years ago, he also joined a local group that staged monthly dramatic readings of plays. When four years ago he came across an article about plays on science, he was ready to combine the interests.
"The idea clicked in my mind that we could make a connection, that we could teach science through theater," Palmer said. "It also had bothered me that chemistry wasn't involved in the Focus program. It was the flagship of the freshman program, and yet chemistry, one of the university's largest departments, had no connection to it."
Mauskopf, a historian of science who started the Focus program in 1992, supported the idea. It was another year until a class slot in the Focus cluster "Evolution and Humankind" opened so the two could teach the course.
This team effort was repeated in 2006. In 2007 Palmer, Mauskopf, David Beratan (also of chemistry) and Andrew Janiak of the philosophy department initiated a new cluster, "The Faces of Science," with Palmer teaching the drama course, Mauskopf teaching a course on the history of science, Beratan, scientific ethics and Janiak, the philosophy of science.
"The courses are intricately overlapping," Palmer said. "We've talked a lot about ethics of science in our class. This necessarily also gets involved in a lot of history and the philosophical foundations of science. And then drama is a great way to get into all of these issues.
"Having our own Focus cluster was really stimulating, but the down side was that Sy and I had to split up but we compensated by instituting a Drama of Science course in the MALS (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) program--as a team. It was a blast."
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