Science instructor, Irina Kovalyova, author of Specimen, a collection of science fiction stories, is introducing a new breadth course for non-science majors, called Mutants and Monsters.

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Mutants and Monsters—new course explores science behind science fiction

August 05, 2015
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By Diane Luckow

Science lecturer Irina Kovalyova is excited about introducing non-science majors to the wonders of the real science lurking behind science fiction stories from the 20th and 21st centuries.

With an MA in chemistry, a PhD in microbiology and immunology, and a published collection of her own science fiction stories, Kovalyova is the perfect instructor for a new breadth course offered this fall that combines cell biology with English.

She spent a year-and-a-half creating BISC 111, Mutants and Monsters—Cell and Molecular Biology in Science Fiction.

The course features a reading list of science fiction stories, an introductory cell-biology textbook, lectures about cell biology, and seminars that discuss the links between the stories and real science.

The lectures on scientific topics—such as the chemistry and architectural structure of cells, culturing cells, genomic engineering, the nature of inheritance, and genetic structure—will all correspond to the science fiction stories the students are reading. These include The Island of Doctor Moreau, Andromeda Strain, Oryx and Crake, and her own short story collection, Specimen.

“In every story there are mutants and monsters. I want to see if students can explore and identify the boundary between them,” says Kovalyova.

As well, she says, “I want to explore the historical, cultural and scientific milieu and time in which these stories were written, and how the science is reflected in that, as well as how our view of science shifts over time.”

The course has no final exam. Instead, students must write a short story that contains plausible science, based on what the students have learned in class.

Kovalyova hopes the course will appeal to students who would like to be better-informed global citizens, capable of commenting in a sophisticated way on science topics such as cloning, stem-cell research and embryonic research that are discussed every day in the news.

“It’s important to separate truth from fiction. I hope from this course they’ll have the basic foundation to do that.”

There are no prerequisites, and up to 108 students may register for the fall semester.