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Current Seminars

History of Hollywood


Peter Decherney, English/Cinema Studies
Tuesdays, 4:30-6:30pm; University of Pennsylvania

This is a seminar on the history of Hollywood. It will focus on politics, culture, and the entertainment industry and how they translate into the art of film. We will learn about techniques for writing about and analyzing films. And we will examine many important Hollywood movies in context. We will trace the American film industry from Edison to the internet, asking questions such as: What is the relationship between Hollywood and independent film? How has the global spread of Hollywood since the 1920s changed the film industry? How has Hollywood responded to crises in American politics (e.g., world wars, the cold war, the Civil Rights Movement, 9/11)? And how have new technologies such as synchronized sound, color cinematography, television, home video, computer graphics, and other digital technologies changed Hollywood? We will look closely at representative studios (Paramount, Disney, and others), representative filmmakers (Mary Pickford, Frank Capra, George Lucas, and Spike Lee among many others), and we will examine the impact of industrial changes on the screen.

Philosophy, Science & Society


Karen Detlefsen, Philosophy
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:30pm; University of Pennsylvania

We sometimes see philosophy as an inaccessible subject and the philosopher a solitary academic musing about abstract concepts from her office chair. However, philosophical thinking lies at the heart of many aspects of human life. Anyone who has pondered over questions regarding goodness, value, personal identity, justice, how to live well, or how to determine the right course of action has thought philosophically. These issues are of great interest and importance not just to adults, but also to children and teenagers. Introducing younger students to philosophical thought consists, in part, of showing them the ways in which they are already thinking philosophically. Equipped with philosophical methods of challenging assumptions, analyzing arguments, making connections, and questioning intuitions will help students to improve their critical thinking skills—skills of central importance in all school subjects. This seminar will enable the teaching of philosophy as self-standing subject, but also a component of curricula in ELA, science, social studies, and mathematics. The questions we will raise include: What is truth? What is democracy? What is the nature of freedom? What does it mean to live a good life? What is science? What moral dilemmas do we face in the use of science to improve life and health?

Robots in Healthcare: From Science Fiction to Reality


Michelle Johnson, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), Bioengineering
Tuesdays, 4:30-6:30pm; University of Pennsylvania

The robots in science fiction are now becoming a reality and their creation embodies our search for a better self and life. This is particularly true when we consider robots in the medical field, whether they replace a missing limb, or restore a motor skill lost due to injury. Robot designs are typically inspired by the biology and function of humans and animals. We often use them to increase a human’s power, improve their precision, and extend their capabilities. The goal of this seminar is to explore the design and function of robots in medicine and healthcare. We will explore how they work; what animal, human part or function inspired them; how they enhance human function; and how they shed light on human frailties. Participants will learn how robot designers use biomimicry to create their robots, how robots sense, think and act on their environment, and how they are being used to advance the healthcare field. The seminar will also incorporate basic STEM knowledge (mechanics, algebra, anatomy, geometry, etc.) as it relates to the design, evaluation and use of robots.

Visual Representation of Data


David Nickerson, Political Science
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:30pm; Temple University

Analysts of all ages use numbers to answer questions large and small. Learning how to communicate these answers clearly and concisely is an important skill. Data visualization (e.g., graphs and heat maps) can help authors explain the narrative of the analysis performed in a powerful way. Pedagogically, constructing graphs and heat maps can help students get their hands on the data and make the meaning of the numbers more concrete. This course offers an introduction to basic design principles in data visualization through a very hands-on approach. Using Google Sheets as our primary interface, we will walk through the nuts-and-bolts of finding, downloading, and importing data sets of interest. The course will discuss rules of thumb for selecting the proper types of graphs to explain relationships, and how to make them in the class. The course will also make use of free data visualization websites for more complicated tasks such as histograms and heat maps. The focus of the course will be on describing data and relationships visually and not on statistics.

Origami Engineering


Cynthia Sung, Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:30pm; University of Pennsylvania

Origami is an ancient art that allows us to fold flat sheets of paper into complex, three-dimensional structures. In the last few decades, we have developed the mathematics to design and analyze new fold patterns, transforming origami from a form of recreation into a powerful engineering tool. This seminar will discuss the principles behind origami-inspired design, focusing on geometry and spatial reasoning. It will address both mathematical theory and applications, covering questions such as: How can we predict from the crease lines and angles on a fold pattern what the resulting 3-D shape will be? How do we do the reverse process of flattening a 3-D shape into a fold pattern? How do we think about action origami (fold patterns that can still move after folding)? And how can these structures and modeling techniques be used in areas such as robotics, manufacturing, space exploration, and medicine? Along the way, we will develop an understanding of the engineering method (similar to the scientific method), and of the history of origami as an art form. The seminar will be of interest to teachers of science and mathematics, as well as arts, history, and social studies.