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Energy: Burning the World from Both Ends

Patrick Johnson,

Core: Physical & Natural Science

Course Description

Most scientists agree that two centuries of fossil fuel use has destabilized the climate, damaged the environment, and created a toxic future environment for life on earth. Dwindling reserves and increased consumption suggests that a tipping point is on its way. Have anthropogenic effects already realized significant changes on Earth? If not, for how long will we be able to continue with current trends before the effects become too substantial to ignore? Is there such a thing as a sustainable civilization? What are the consequences of remaining on our current course, and what options do we have? This is an energy-science literacy course for anyone and it is designed to equip you with a better understanding of the scientific method and how physics, chemistry and biology shape our daily lives.

Readings and Texts

All reading material will be collected into a single pdf document that can be printed as a reader or viewed on a computer. The readings will consist of selections from the following sources:

  • Energy: A Beginner's Guide. Vaclav Smil.
  • Peer edited journals such as Nature Publishing Group, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, Scientific American, among others.
  • Recent periodicals from local and national newspapers.

Films and Other Course Materials



Other Media

"Earth's Changing Climate". The Teaching Company.

The Smartest Guys in the Room




TED talks

Select Futurama clips

Clips from Idiocracy

Student Requirements

In class participation is vital and mandatory. Out-of-class assignments will consist of audio-lectures and various readings from the text and current event articles.

Final projects will be held at the end of the semester and will consist of an 'experimental thesis' in which the student explores the intersection of Energy Science along with another subject: e.g. sociology, policy, urban planning, etc. These projects will allow the students to develop their ideas into a tangible product that has the potential to serve concrete and potentially significant use in "the real world". We will discuss the Scientific Method in detail in class and students should execute their projects accordingly. You will present your final projects to your peers during what will inevitably be a dynamic and exciting final week of class. No specific background in science is required for this course, as the goal is to create a general “energy literacy” independent of previous knowledge. No advanced mathematics will be required or used during this course.

About the Instructor

Patrick is completing a Nanoscience Ph.D. at UNM working on shelf-stable live-cell vaccines against tuberculosis and metastatic cancer dormancy. His B.S. in physics combined with his expertise in nanotechnology has allowed him to explore the subject of energy science and how it might have implications on environment, policy, and health.