Project Abstract

An important perspective on place can be gained by examining the created objects that define or reflect a place. These can be art/cultural objects, or everyday items and structures. In this project, I will be developing a new Finding Your Place (FYP) section entitled “Chemistry: Creating Place” that will be offered in this fall (Advent 2015). This section will focus on how chemistry can be used as a lens to understand how nature and humankind transform materials in the environment to create and represent place.

Place is defined by many parameters from the emotional and the intellectual to the physical environment. In considering the physical environments that define a sense of place it is important to examine both the natural processes that shape that place and the ways in which people construct place through both the making of both everyday and cultural objects. Chemistry is the study of the structure and transformations of matter via both natural and “man-made” processes. As such, chemistry can offer both an important perspective of place and a useful lens for considering many questions related to the concept of place. Consequently, I will be developing a new FYP section entitled “Chemistry: Creating Place” that will be offered in this fall (Advent 2015). During the course, the students and I will consider how chemical processes shape the natural landscape (cave formation, soil types, etc) and how people have used chemical processes in the creation of place (coal mining and processing, clay usage, iron making, rock-art pigments, etc).

Moving beyond this course, I plan to develop a new version of a “Chemistry and Art” type class and/or an archeometry (scientific analysis of archeological artifacts) that will couple to a new minor in Archeology being developed by Sarah Sherwood and others. These courses will offer attractive option for students interested in science general education courses. The Chemistry and Art course is envisioned as a collaboration with Jeff Thompson in Art and Art History.

Project Alignment with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies

Both the FYP course and the proposed archeometry course will help support a growing area of historical archeology on the Domain and in the surrounding region. I would also like to partner with local groups such as the Heritage Center in Tracy City to develop educational materials that highlight  how chemistry and chemical analyses of materials can shed light on the regions history and culture. I would also like to work with students, either in my FYP or other courses, to develop a series of presentations about these topics that could be delivered at local schools (all levels) to help kids see how chemistry plays a role in their lives.

Project Impact

The immediate goal of the project is to develop an exciting and engaging section of the FYP. This will be assessed through student evaluations as well as the reflective writing and journal assignments in the course. A successful outcome will impact both the students in the course and myself directly via a positive learning experience. It will also help other faculty by providing an example of an FYP section from beyond the “natural” disciplinary areas that have been part of the course (ecology, geology, history, archeology, literature, etc).

The second goal will be to launch a second course in the chemistry of cultural materials (Chemistry and Art/Archeometry). This goal will be evaluated first and foremost by the offering of this course, hopefully in the 2016-17 academic year (this year’s schedule is already set). The success of the course will be evaluated by teaching evaluations and rubrics for the projects associated with the class. If, as hoped, the course involves the development of didactic and/or presentation materials for the public (outreach to schools, an exhibit in the library), these will be evaluated by their existence and then feedback from the community partners and participants.

Final Report