HC 241H (formerly 207H/209H): Alchemy of the Air: Nitrogen as Global Savior and Scourge

Professor: Matthew Polizzotto

4.00 credits

• CRN 16888: Tuesday & Thursday, 1215-1345 @ GSH 132

Note:  HC 241H Science courses are equivalent to HC 207H and 209H Science courses in the pre-Fall 2020 curriculum requirements and will fulfill the HC207H / HC209H requirement.  If you have already completed HC 207H or 209H, you do not need to take HC 241H in the Fall 2020 curriculum requirements.

Figuring out how to harness usable nitrogen from air was one of the most important innovations in human history. It has enabled half the world's population to be fed, but has come with the costs of environmental degradation, exacerbated climate change, and enhanced tools for war. In this course, we will read Thomas Hager's "The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler". We will discuss the geopolitical history of nitrogen use for fertilizers and explosives, and we will examine how science and policy intersect. Along the way, we will also explore topics of elemental cycling, environmental pollution, and global food security. Class meetings will include discussions of readings, student-led presentations and creative activities; grades will be determined by participation and student projects.