HC 441H: Oxygen

Professor: Victoria DeRose

4.00 credits

  • CRN 22637: Tuesday & Thursday, 1415-1545 @ REMOTE

Oxygen, the breath of life, once poisoned the earth. The Great Oxygenation Event of over billion years ago that began an oxygenic atmosphere is also termed the Great Catastrophe, reflecting the struggle for survival that resulted in our ultimate survival and reliance on a simple molecule that can be created through the power of sunlight in photosynthesis. This Colloquium will use the natural history and the science of oxygen as a guiding theme to explore topics ranging from adaptation and lifespan to fermentation and fuel cells. We will first review the chemical properties of the molecule, its geological record, and its critical roles in shaping biology, both current and extant, along with the history of its discovery in Western science in the late 1700’s. The latter is even the topic of a play by contemporary scientists Djerassi and Hoffman, who illuminate the early science and protagonists in context of historical social structures.  The class will then explore contemporary topics wherein oxygen plays a central role, such as the challenge of controlled oxygen reduction in fuel cells, artificial life forms including blood substitutes, and how experts use oxygen content to control quality in beer, wine, and food fermentation. Class activities will include readings from current scientific literature, the play Oxygen (Djerassi and Hoffman), and the books ‘Oxygen, a Four Billion Year History’ (Canfield, 2014) and ‘Oxygen: The Molecule that made the World’ (Lane, 2002), among others. We will use our course as a forum to interact with diverse experts from the University of Oregon scientific research community, as well as members of the local community.