The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale hosted the first lecture Tuesday of “The Way We Work with Life: Issues in Biotechnology,” a new course consisting of 37 lectures that include prominent scientists in a variety of biotech fields.
The course, which is scheduled to meet Tuesday evenings, was designed by Albert Kausch, a professor at the University of Rhode Island. Kausch also serves as president and founder of lifeedu, the not-for-profit genetics and biotechnology education organization that sponsored the lecture series. This particular program was designed to offer a more complete picture of contemporary life science and its applications than is typically available, he said.
“There’s a large amount of misunderstanding and misconception about recent advances in biotechnology and what’s going on in biology today,” Kausch said. “I see it as a way to close the education gap with biotechnology.”
Kausch credited the Peabody lecture series in large part to the aid of professors Nancy Kerk and Ian Sussex — who both serve on the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology faculty — and Peabody Director Michael Donoghue, who said the program is a welcome boon for the museum.
“We in Peabody are delighted that the course is happening, and it is happening here,” Donoghue said. “This sort of education is entirely in line with the philosophy of our museum.”
Not only is the course available without prerequisites for Yale students, but the lecture series is open to the public, as well as to high school students and other post-secondary students taking the course for credit. For those seeking credit or simply auditing the course, it can also be completed online, viewed at a teleconference site or on DVD.
Kerk said the course is divided into thirds, each focusing on an aspect of the larger biotechnological lessons: basic genetics, real-world applications of biotechnology — including forensics and pharmaceuticals — and social considerations relevant to biotechnology and bioethics. One of the course’s primary goals, she said, is to reach people not intimately associated with science.
“What we should do is look to a ’boutique audience’ … global leaders that will need to know about science in all different realms,” Kerk said. “They’re smart people, but they don’t happen to have a background in science, which they may need for policy decisions.”
Teachers are also a major component of the intended audience, Kerk said. In attendance Tuesday night was Jane Donn, the program coordinator of Connecticut Career Choices, an organization working to help disseminate the curriculum to state schools.
Some audience members said they attended not for credit or curricular benefits, but simply to gain greater insight into what they consider an important topic.
“From the first lecture, I just want a general familiarity with the terminology so I can walk into the 21st century with my grandchildren,” said Reva Barezschwartz, a New Haven resident who was present at Tuesday’s lecture.
Kausch’s first presentation yielded positive reviews from most audience members.
“I thought he was interesting,” said Natacha Clavell, a New Haven high school senior. “He made it relevant to our lives.”
Despite the reception of the lecture, Tuesday’s small attendance of about 20 people might force the live Tuesday night lectures to be cancelled in favor of other formats. An attendance of approximately 100 people would be necessary for the live lecture to be feasible, said Chip Longo, a vice president at lifeedu.