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In today's digital age, people are continuing to trade in their flip phones for the latest and greatest smart phone on the market. Many people have returned their paperbacks to the library and are now operating Kindles, Nooks, and iPads. What makes these new devices so enticing? The wide variety of apps, of course!

In a world full of bloggers, Tweets, Facebook, and other fast-paced and technologically advanced programs, many institutions are now only a click away. If clothing stores and restaurants have apps, shouldn't art museums? 

Recently, I learned about a new course offered by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Department of Art History, and College of Design at the U of M. The goal of the course will be to conceptualize an interactive app for the world-renowned Weisman Art Museum (WAM), which is located on the U of M east bank campus. The course will combine research, writing, design, observation, and discussion to create an exciting new app. 

I was so excited to learn about the amazing opportunity, and I signed up for the course right away. It's great to see the University constantly offering new coursework and opportunities that are following the trends of technology and society, and helping us stay ahead of the curve in our knowledge and skills. I look forward to learning a lot from this class next semester!

From web-spinning adventures to gravity-defying rescues and explosive action, the stories of larger-than-life comic book characters have thrilled and inspired us for years. But have you ever wondered how fast Superman must have flown to save Lois Lane as she plummeted off a skyscraper? How much force did Spiderman use to stop the train from derailing into disaster? Well, you'll no longer have to wonder about Wolverine or be suspicious of Superman. Never fear! Professor Kakalios is here to save the day! Pow!

Not only is Jim Kakalios a physics professor at the University of Minnesota teaching classes such as "Everything I know about Physics I Learned By Reading Comic Books," he is also a tried and true superhero consultant so-to-speak. He has served as a scientific consultant on Warner Brothers' 2009 film Watchmen as well as the upcoming summer flick The Amazing Spider-Man. Through the National Academy of Science's Science and Entertainment Exchange program, Kakalios consulted behind two of the superhero's most important traits: webbing and wall crawling.

His most important contribution to the film is the "Decay Rate Algorithm," a mathematical expression relating to cell regeneration and human mortality. The equation needed to be so memorable that audience members would be able to recognize it during several scenes throughout the movie.

The algorithm provides a mathematical explanation for how defective cells multiply against the weekend immune system of an aging body and become fatal: combining the real science found in the Gompertz Equation and the Reliability Theory of Aging and Longevity.

Aside from transforming fictional situations into realistic scenarios, he also wrote the book The Physics of Superheroes as well as The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics. "At the end of the day, I'm not looking for a movie to be 100 percent scientifically accurate. But if they can do something right, it's like catching a little inside joke... And who knows? Maybe the audience will learn a little something about science," says Kakalios on his website. See his work come to life on screen in The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters July 3rd. 

Check out "Everything I know About Physics I Learned By Reading Comic Books" along with other freshman seminars offered here.

The school year is coming to an end, but before it's over, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite classes of the semester-- American Popular Culture and Politics: 1940 to the Present. I took this American Studies course to satisfy some of my liberal education requirements: the 4-credit course fulfills the 'Civic Life and Ethics' and 'Historical Perspectives' themes, and is also a writing intensive requirement. I was thrilled to find a class that fulfilled three requirements and was also very interesting.

In this class, we study the history of America beginning with World War II. This is done through reading approximately 50 pages each week, as well as viewing a film each week that is related to the topic we're discussing. Through experiencing the popular culture itself and listening to a lecture about the historical context, we are able to see how history has changed the way Americans think and act, and how it has affected what we are exposed to on a daily basis. Some of the films we've watched include Gran Torino, Thelma and Louise, Rambo, and Fight Club. Through this class, I've learned a great deal of new information about important topics in American history, such as the baby boom, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, consumer culture, the aftermath of 9/11, and many more.

I find the workload very reasonable for an upper-level, writing intensive class (but perhaps that is because I like it so much!). The course culminates in a 10-12 page term paper discussing the themes of the class, a popular culture item of your choice, and how it relates to a domestic or international issue in the history of America. We meet for lecture twice a week, as well as discussion once a week. There are four quizzes and final. The quizzes consist of short essays related to the themes and popular culture items of the class, and the final is a take-home essay. This may sound like a lot of writing, but the content is interesting, and you don't realize how much you have learned until you look back on what you have accomplished. The work is enjoyable!

I have looked forward to attending this class each week throughout this semester and I highly recommend it!

In a new College of Biological Sciences course entitled BIOL 4950 Special Topics in Biology: Exploring Mississippi Metagenomics, students are the principal investigators in ambitious research project to catalog the Mississippi River's microbes. In this course, each student leads a research project that contributes to a larger study of the metagenomics - the study the DNA of all microorganisms found in a given environment - of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi Metagenome Project research project that aims at gathering genetic information of microbes that survive along the Mississippi River, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. One of the goals of the program is study how human activity is affecting the biodiversity of microogranisms along the Mississippi.

This exciting course introduces students to two facinating aspects of biology--metagenomics and research. Check out the Exploring Mississippi Metagenomics video and learn about this fascinating experience for University of Minnesota and College of Biological Science students!  

Are you a kid at heart? Would you like to tinker with toys...for a living? Students pursuing a product design minor at the University can get a glimpse into the life of a toy maker in course called Toy Product Design. In this course, students learn the ins and outs of toy design.

Students are put into teams and will design their own toy prototypes. They will also learn about the design process and the necessary steps of creating products while considering customer wants and needs. Students work closely with children to see how they interact with the toy and make adjustments to the product that will improve the user's experience.

At the end of the semester, students present their work to children, toy designers, engineers, and even some toy stores, including Twin Cities-based company Creative Kidstuff. The professor of the class, Barry Kudrowitz, has had plenty of experience in the toy-making industry. He designed a Nerf Atom Blaster!

Learn more about this interesting, challenging, and undoubtedly fun class on the course website.

The University offers thousands of fascinating courses. With all of the choices, it can be hard to choose--especially when registering for your first semester. Fortunately, you will have the guidance of an excellent academic advisor every step of the way. Here's one tip from me: You shouldn't miss out on is a freshman seminar!

Freshman seminars are unique courses that are taught by some of our most distinguished faculty members. From Nobel Prize winners to award-winning authors, our faculty really enjoy the opportunity to be able to work with new students in a close-knit classroom environment. Freshman seminars provide students with an opportunity to get connected with a professor and their classmates while studying a interesting, interdisciplinary subject. With over a 100 seminars taught each year, freshman seminars cover a vast array of topics. And, over half the courses are taught by CLA faculty. Here are just a handful of examples:

Humanities 1905: Utopias and Anti-Utopias
This seminar explores a variety of visions of an ideal society (utopia) and its opposite (anti-utopia) in the writings of philosophers, novelists, psychologists, and social and cultural critics through the ages, from Plato to Orwell, to feminist perspectives. Of central concern in this seminar is the degree of actual or potential correspondence of these visions to the real world of individual and social existence.

Music 1905: Bob Dylan
This seminar is an examination of the contribution of Bob Dylan, one of the world's greatest artists, mostly to music, but also to literature, film, and the visual arts.

English 1910W: Our Monsters, Ourselves
We all grow up with "monsters". They can be campy and kitsch, or objects of true fear and loathing. But what is monstrosity? What do "our" monsters reveal about us, as individuals and as a culture? How do they embody our conflicts, ambivalence and denial about our desires and our identity?

Psychology 1905: What is the Human Mind?
One of the most intriguing aspects of the universe is that you can think, that minds operate as entities apparently crucially tied to physical brains but are also importantly different. In this seminar, students examine conceptions of the human mind from psychological, philosophical, and neuroscientific perspectives.

Psychology 1905: The Cultural Psychology of Storytelling
In this seminar, students explore the form and content of the stories that people tell about their lives, and how these culturally-grounded stories are indicative of the psychologies of the individuals, groups, and societies who produce them.

For more information about  freshman seminars take a look at our Orientation and First Year Services website!

In the last twenty years, the Internet has changed the way we communicate with one another and has brought global societies closer together. Using the Internet, organizations can reach customers across continents and individuals have the ability to share their opinions and ideas with the world. Geographic location does not exist as a barrier for business, making friends, or for communication. Internet and Global Society is a class at the University of Minnesota that explores the social, economic, cultural and political impact of the Internet around the world.

The class is taught through the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Liberal Arts. I took this course last year and really enjoyed it. Class time was spend in discussions, watching videos, and working in groups. Some of the assignments included:

  • Comparison paper of two different social networking sites
  • A paper on the positive and negative implications of globalization
  • Creating a custom Google Map of a specific area's attractions, featuring information on each location.
  • A paper on digital divide (the growing divide between people that use the Internet and those that do not)

For our final project we created a website that explored a specific topic that highlighted the social, political, economic, or  cultural implications of new media technologies on the global society in more depth. My group's website presented the Internet's effect on communications professions, such as public relations, advertising, journalism, and graphic design.

Joan Baez Bob Dylan crop

The University of Minnesota offers freshman seminars to all first-year students. These small, discussion-oriented courses are developed by faculty and are usually based on topics that are relevant to popular culture and what is happening in today's society. Freshman seminars usually meet once a week and are a great way to get to know a faculty member and other first-year students with similar interests.

One seminar being offered this year explores the life and music of Bob Dylan. Mr. Dylan is known as one of the greatest musical artists of all time and is a personal favorite. Did you know he attended the U of M for a year before he moved to New York and became famous? He is also from the Minnesota iron range, just like me!

The Bob Dylan course examines the many contributions he has made to music, popular culture, literature, and film. Class time is spent listening to music; viewing videos, concert footage, and films; and having topical discussions. It is taught by Alex Lubet, a professor of music and American and Jewish Studies. The best part of this class? No exams! 

Learn more about freshman seminars at the U of M.

The photo above is labeled for reuse with modification at http://bit.ly/bOo9QI via Wikimedia Commons.

The College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences is offering a class this fall that is concentrating on one of the biggest news headlines of the year: the Gulf oil spill. This class explores technical and scientific issues of the spill, along with ethical and societal implications. If I was a student, I would definitely put it on the top of my "must take" classes for 2010.

At the University of Minnesota, our students are not only learning about events that have happened recently--say, 5 or 10 years ago--they are also learning about issues that the world is facing at this very moment in time. The class is being lead by Ph.D. student Robert Gilmer. Robert went on a 10-day trip to the Gulf of Mexico to see, firsthand, how the spill was affecting New Orleans and the Mississippi River Delta. Here is a video of him explaining his plans for the class:


Here is a link to Robert's blog that he created during his trip down to the Gulf. 

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