Giovanna Truong, Staff Illustrator

Navigating science classes at Yale is often a daunting task: courses tend to have prerequisites, reputations of high workloads or both. 

Yale College requires each student to take at least two science credits during their four years as part of the undergraduate science requirement. For students without a background in science, picking classes to fulfill this requirement can be intimidating. 

Fortunately, Yale College offers a number of courses each semester that are designed to be accessible for non-science majors. Many of these courses have few prerequisites, if any, and their professors have adopted a teaching style that fits the needs of both science majors and non-science majors. 

“I think science at Yale is accessible for non-STEM majors,” Emily Zhang ’25 said. “However, there are a lot of interesting classes that premise on having taken prerequisites with a linear learning sequence.” 

Below is a non-comprehensive list of courses that are popular amongst non-science majors.

EPS 110: Dynamic Earth (offered Fall 2022)

EPS 110 considers Earth’s existence as a planetary system. By looking at Earth through this lens, the class provides an introduction to geology for earth and planetary sciences majors. 

“My job is not so much to make people try to memorize information … but to give them a foundation of what I think is important based on my expertise, thinking about geology every day of my life for the past 30 years,” said David Evans ’92, course instructor, professor of earth and planetary sciences and Berkeley head of college. “[My job] … most importantly is to inspire a love of science and a desire to look up more on their own.”

Evans has helmed the course’s evolution away from being examination-centric towards a project-based approach. To do so, he consulted experts in pedagogy at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning to come up with the current structure of the class. 

Designed to be accessible to non-scientists, the class has no midterms or finals, requiring only problem sets that feed into semester-long projects where students explore the geology of a city of their own choosing.

“Considering the fact that I myself am more of a humanities/social science person, Dynamic Earth has been the best and one of two only science classes I’ll be taking at Yale,” said Nikki Ng ’25. “It’s really exciting to get to know the in-depth geology … for the semester-long project and how that geology has affected the development of that region overtime.”

ASTR 130: Origins and the Search of Life in the Universe (offered Spring 2023)

ASTR 130 examines the origins of the universe, stars and planets. Topics include the origin of life on earth and methods of searching for life elsewhere. 

According to the course description, no prerequisites are required except a working knowledge of elementary algebra.  

I do try to provide layers of content in all of my courses, so that there’s a fundamental base level that I expect students from all backgrounds to achieve,” course professor Michael Faison, lecturer of astronomy and director of Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium, wrote to the News. “But then I provide optional, extra challenges for those who have more background in physics, programming, or math.”

Faison explained that the course offers in-class discussions, office hours and opportunities to engage outside of class, such as at the observatory in the evenings. He added that the course aims to implant an understanding of the scientific method and skills in critical thinking.

Throughout the course, students will focus on the astrophysics of the origins of galaxies, stars and planets, then move to the origin and evolution of life on Earth, before finishing with the search for signs of intelligent life elsewhere. 

Faison added that students should look for classes that push them to the “edges of [their] comfort zone” and have a reputation of being well-taught.

“It is much more important to have a good relationship with the instructor than to learn a specific subject,” Faison wrote. “As someone from a liberal arts background, I strongly believe that college is the time to be exposed to a broad range of ideas and develop skills rather than to learn specific content.”

The Mystery of Sleep (offered Fall 2022)

CGSC 175 focuses on the role in which sleep affects attention, cognition and memory. Topics addressed include sleep in different life forms, how artists look at sleep, sleep disorders and more.

According to Meir Kryger, professor emeritus of medicine and one of the instructors of CGSC 175, the course content includes material from artists and philosophers. Kryger furthered that although the content includes “hardball science,” it is presented in such a way that it is understandable for humanities students as well.

“The students come from academically diverse backgrounds and this is wonderful,” Kryger wrote in an email to the News. “The goal of the course is for students to learn the science of sleep and how that positively [impacts] their lives.”

Biology, The World, and Us (offered Fall 2022 and Spring 2023)

MB&B 105 aims to help students understand modern biology through current issues such as pandemics, climate crisis, genetics and more. 

Unlike many other biology classes, this course has no prerequisites. 

“It’s wonderful having the chance to show non-science majors how astonishing biology can be, in a way that’s easy to understand and [is] engaging,” John Carlson, one of the course instructors and Eugene Higgins professor of molecular, cellular & developmental biology, wrote to the News. “Every year students tell me they wish they’d taken our course earlier, because they found biology far more interesting than they were expecting.”

Carlson explained that the instructors pick topics that are based in “fascinating biology,” which are important in understanding the world. 

The course typically enrolls over 100 students, and has been offered in both the fall and spring for the past 5 years.

“We learnt some pretty cool things like the neuroscience behind addiction and the science behind COVID,” said Devina Aggarwal ’25. “I never took biology in high school but most of the stuff we covered was quite basic and easily understandable.”

Energy, Environment, and Public Policy (Offered Spring 2023)

APHY 100 looks into uses of energy and the associated technologies. Topics are associated with the environment, climate, security and the economy. 

Enrollment is limited to 20 students, with preference given to environmental studies students, as well as those in the energy studies program. 

“This year, I’m aiming for a somewhat smaller class, because we have a lot of projects,” said course professor Daniel Prober, professor of applied physics and of electrical engineering and of physics. “[We look for] students who have an interest in understanding how energy issues should be treated in public policy.”

Prober said that he aims to explain energy issues at a level that a non-science major can understand them. He added that the course often brings in guest lecturers, which in the past have included a BP executive and an energy writer for the Wall Street Journal. 

The Technological World (offered Spring 2023)

APHY 110 aims to explore modern technologies that play an important role in everyday life. Examples of such technologies include cell phones, electric cars and cryptocurrency. According to course instructor and assistant professor of applied physics Owen Miller, it can be easy to take the extraordinary capabilities of modern technology for granted, which is why the course aims to figure out how everyday technologies work under the hood. 

“Some of the students have found the course to change a bit how they see the world—understanding news articles they would have skipped before, explaining to family members or fellow students the surprising simplicity or complexity of various technologies, seeking out more technology-oriented internships, or going down YouTube science rabbit holes,” Miller wrote in an email to the News. “Hearing about these moments is absolutely my favorite part of teaching this course.”

According to Miller, the course uses little mathematics, instead focusing on “fundamental principles and mechanisms.” By the end of the course, students have enough physical understanding to understand “relatively complex” technologies. 

Miller added that he includes unconventional topics in the course to ensure that the material remains interesting for science majors as well. 

“I think the science requirements help make a well rounded Yale student,” Ken Huynh ’25 told the News. “Even if you are not interested in science, the two credits keep you in that space and keep you educated about the world and new scientific ideas.”

Yale College students are required to take at least one science credit before finishing their sophomore year.

Alex Ye covers faculty and academics. He previously covered the endowment, finance and donations. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight majoring in applied mathematics.