Giovanna Truong, staff illustrator
Navigating science courses at Yale is often a daunting task: Courses tend to have prerequisites, reputations for high workloads, or both.
Yale College requires every student to earn at least two science credits in their four years as part of the undergraduate science requirement. For students without a science background, choosing courses to meet this requirement can be daunting.
Fortunately, Yale College offers a number of courses each semester designed to be accessible to non-science majors. Many of these courses have few, if any, prerequisites, and their professors have adopted a teaching style that meets the needs of science majors and non-science majors alike.
“I think science at Yale is accessible to non-STEM majors,” Emily Zhang ’25 said. “However, there are many great courses that assume prerequisites with a linear learning sequence.”
Below is a non-exhaustive list of popular courses among non-science majors.
EPS 110: Dynamic Earth (offered Fall 2022)
EPS 110 considers the existence of the Earth as a planetary system. Looking at the Earth through this lens, the class provides an introduction to geology for Earth and planetary science majors.
“My job is not so much to make people try to memorize information…but to give them a basis of what I think is important based on my expertise, thinking about geology every days of my life for the past 30 years,” said David Evans. ’92, course instructor, professor of earth and planetary sciences and principal of the Berkeley college. “[My job] …the most important thing is to inspire a love of science and a desire to seek more for themselves.
Evans led the evolution of the course away from being exam-centric towards a project-based approach. To do this, he consulted with pedagogical experts from the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning to develop the current classroom structure.
Designed to be accessible to non-scientists, the class has no midterms or finals, requiring only problem sets that feed into semester-long projects where students explore the geology of a city in their choice.
“Considering that I’m more of a humanities/social sciences person myself, Dynamic Earth was the best and one of only two science courses I’ll take at Yale,” said Nikki Ng ’25. “It’s really exciting to get to know the geology in depth…for the semester project and how that geology has affected the development of this area over time.”
ASTR 130: The Origins and Search for Life in the Universe (offered Spring 2023)
ASTR 130 examines the origins of the universe, stars and planets. Topics include the origin of life on earth and methods of finding life elsewhere.
According to the course description, no prerequisites are required except a working knowledge of elementary algebra.
“I try to provide layers of content in all my courses so that there is a fundamental foundational level that I expect from students of all backgrounds,” wrote Professor Michael Faison, Senior Lecturer in Astronomy and director of the Leitner family observatory and planetarium. to the News. “But then I offer optional additional challenges for those with more background in physics, programming, or math.”
Faison explained that the course offers classroom discussions, office hours, and opportunities to engage outside of class, such as at the observatory in the evenings. He added that the course aims to implant an understanding of the scientific method and critical thinking skills.
Throughout the course, students will focus on the astrophysics of the origins of galaxies, stars and planets, then move on to the origin and evolution of life on Earth, before concluding with the search for signs intelligent life elsewhere.
Faison added that students should look for courses that push them to the “edges of [their] comfort zone” and have a reputation for being well educated.
“It’s much more important to have a good relationship with the instructor than to learn a specific subject,” Faison wrote. “As someone with a liberal arts background, I strongly believe that college is the time to be exposed to a wide range of ideas and to develop skills rather than learning specific content.”
The Mystery of Sleep (Offered Fall 2022)
CGSC 175 focuses on the role in which sleep affects attention, cognition, and memory. Topics include sleep in different lifeforms, how artists look at sleep, sleep disorders and more.
According to Meir Kryger, professor emeritus of medicine and one of the instructors at CGSC 175, the course content includes material from artists and philosophers. Kryger added that although the content includes “hard science”, it is presented in such a way that it is also understandable for humanities students.
“The students come from diverse academic backgrounds and it’s wonderful,” Kryger wrote in an email to the News. “The aim of the course is for students to learn the science of sleep and how it positively [impacts] their lives.”
Biology, The World, and Us (offered Fall 2022 and Spring 2023)
MB&B 105 aims to help students understand modern biology through current issues such as pandemics, the climate crisis, genetics and more.
Unlike many other biology courses, this course has no prerequisites.
“It’s wonderful to have the chance to show non-scientific students how amazing biology can be, in a way that’s easy to understand and [is] engaging,” John Carlson, one of the course instructors and Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, wrote to The News. “Each year, students tell me that they wish they had taken our course earlier, because they found biology much more interesting than they thought.”
Carlson explained that instructors choose topics based on “fascinating biology,” which are important to understanding the world.
The course typically accommodates over 100 students and has been offered in the fall and spring for the past 5 years.
“We learned some pretty cool stuff like the neuroscience behind addiction and the science behind COVID,” Devina Aggarwal ’25 said. “I never took biology classes in high school, but most of the topics we covered were pretty basic and easily understood.”
Energy, Environment and Public Policy (offered Spring 2023)
APHY 100 is interested in the uses of energy and associated technologies. The themes are related to environment, climate, security and economy.
Enrollment is limited to 20 students, with preference given to students in Environmental Studies, as well as those in the Energy Studies program.
“This year, I’m aiming for a slightly smaller class, because we have a lot of projects,” said course teacher Daniel Prober, professor of applied physics and electrical engineering and physics. “[We look for] students who have an interest in understanding how energy issues should be addressed in public policy.
Prober said it aims to explain energy issues at a level that a non-science major can understand. He added that the course often uses guest lecturers, which in the past have included a BP executive and an energy editor for the Wall Street Journal.
The Tech World (Offered Spring 2023)
APHY 110 aims to explore modern technologies that play an important role in daily life. Examples of these technologies include cell phones, electric cars, and cryptocurrency. According to course instructor and Assistant Professor of Applied Physics Owen Miller, it can be easy to take the extraordinary capabilities of modern technology for granted, which is why the course aims to understand how everyday technologies work under the hood.
“Some students found that the course changed their way of seeing the world a little: understanding press articles that they would have ignored before, explaining to family members or other students the surprising simplicity or complexity of various technologies, looking for more tech-focused information, internships, or science rabbit holes on YouTube,” Miller wrote in an email to the News. “Hearing about those moments is absolutely my favorite part of teaching this course.”
According to Miller, the course uses little math, focusing instead on “fundamental principles and mechanisms.” By the end of the course, students have sufficient physical understanding to understand “relatively complex” technologies.
Miller added that he includes unconventional topics in the course to ensure that the material remains interesting for science students as well.
“I think the science requirements help make a well-rounded Yale student,” Ken Huynh ’25 told The News. “Even if you’re not interested in science, both credits keep you in that space and educate you about the world and new ideas in science.”
Yale College students must earn at least one science credit before completing their sophomore year.