July 28, 2007

An Insider's Look at Courses and Cornell's Campus

Print More

This article appears in the 2007 edition of The Sun’s annual Freshman Issue.

The following are excerpts from features appearing in The Sun in the past that help to define Cornell.

Relationships 101
Ever wonder what went wrong in that last relationship or worry about how the sex has gone bad after a few months? Or wake up on a Sunday morning and lament, “What was I thinking last night?”
Next time you have these questions, turn to Human Development 362: Human Bonding (HD 362) instead of those relationship crib sheets, Cosmopolitan and Maxim.
Students Drink For Credit
Every Wednesday this semester from 2:50 to 4:55 p.m., over 800 Cornell students are getting credit for imbibing alcohol.
No, this isn’t an early April Fool’s printing of The Sun or a cheap trick by the School of Hotel Administration to increase enrollment.
The students are enrolled in the hotel school’s two-credit Introduction to Wines (HADM 430), and they are not getting drunk on the six one-ounce wine samples they get in class.
The Jewels of Snee
When they first see the glass display cases and sparkling rocks, students may inadvertently think that they have stumbled upon a jewelry store in the middle of a campus building. What they have really found is a treasure of different sorts: the Timothy N. Heasley Mineralogy Museum.
The collection features an incredible variety of different minerals and gems, including gold, diamonds, opals, tanzanite, coral, amethyst, sulfur and quartz.
However, the displays are only “a fraction of the collection. There’s much more in drawers stored away,” said Allen Basset, who donated much of the collection.
Collection for Fashion-Conscious
Most college students spend a lot of time thinking about their clothing. But even though they may spend hours searching for the right outfit to wear to a job interview or party, they only see the outfit as part of their wardrobe. In the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, however, clothing has become a part of history.
The costume collection, located in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall (MVR), currently consists of approximately 10,000 items.
There is a moderately large ethnographic collection featuring traditional dress from many different parts of the world as well as a textile collection featuring quilts, tapestries and wall hangings.
However, the majority of the collection is fashion-related. It features clothing dating as far back as the 18th century up to modern times.
Basically, it’s “anything from the skin out that you might wear, or carry, or use as part of dress,” said the collection’s curator, Prof. Charlotte Jirousek, textiles and apparel.
Inside the Particle Accelerator
Something is buried under Cornell’s playing fields. Fifty feet below the surface of the earth, next to Wilson Lab, there is a ring-shaped tunnel roughly half a mile in circumference. Here, scientists work day and night to unlock the secrets of the universe.
Sound like an urban legend or the plot of a science-fiction movie? It’s not. It’s the Laboratory for Elementary Particle Physics’ (LEPP) particle accelerator.
The LEPP, once known as the Laboratory of Nuclear Studies, first opened immediately after World War II. It has gone through several different phases over the years, and the current facility was constructed in 1979.
The particle accelerator runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the exception of maintenance and improvement periods. The cost of energy, maintenance, equipment and staff salaries is covered by an annual budget of approximately $20 million.
At this point, students who don’t know much about physics are probably asking what all this means.
Prof. David G. Cassel, physics, associate director of LEPP, was more than happy to answer that question.
“It accelerates particles,” he said with a smile.
Your Very Own Brain Collection
The display of human brains, particularly those identified with specific individuals, evokes a variety of reactions; from horror, to distaste, to curiosity, to fascination.
Experiencing this first-hand only involves a short trip to Uris Hall’s second floor, where a display case features Cornell’s Wilder Brain Collection.
The collection, which at one time featured 1,600 animal and human brains, was founded in the 1880s by Dr. Burt Green Wilder, Cornell’s first zoologist. The University stopped accepting additional brains in 1940, and at present, only 70 remain.
The Nation’s Biggest Class
With the ad­vent of U.S. News & World Report’s school ranking system, colleges have recently tried to raise their rankings in any way possible, including decreasing their class sizes. Cornell’s The Frontiers of Psychological Inquiry (PSY CH 101), taught by Prof. James B. Maas Ph.D. ’66, defies this ever-increasing norm.
After being moved to Statler Auditorium, the 1,600-student class moves back to the University’s concert venue, Bailey Hall. For the first time in several years, upperclassmen are allowed to take the class.
During the 40 years that Maas has taught Psych 101, he credits himself with having taught over 60,000 Cornell undergraduates. Because of the sheer numbers, Maas excitedly explains the phenomenon that “wherever I go, there is a student that I taught.”
Rare Manuscripts
A journey through time, back to the year 2000 B.C., is still beyond the scope of modern technology. However, seeing clay tablets from 4,000 years ago only requires a journey to the library.
The Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library are open to everyone and include tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing as well as handwritten manuscripts from the medieval period, works by modern authors and everything else in between.
According to the Cornell University Library website, the collections consist of “300,000 printed volumes, more than 70 million manuscripts and another million photographs, paintings, prints and other visual media.”
The collection is also home to the Cornell University Archives, which document the history of the University and the Ithaca area.
Ancient Artifacts
With air raid curtains from the 1940s hanging in the windows and decorative pillars left over from the museum that once occupied its place, McGraw 150 is itself a part of history.
The décor is fitting for a room which currently houses Cornell’s anthropology collection. The collection, which has existed in some form or another since 1868, contains artifacts from all over the world and spans roughly half a million years of human history.
The collection was started by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White and was once housed in Cornell’s natural history museum.
According to David Holmberg, chair of the anthropology department, when the museum closed sometime during World War II its displays were either moved to other areas or put into storage.
What hadn’t been claimed by the Johnson Museum or the geology collection then “came under the responsibility of the Department of Anthropology,” Holmberg said.
Professor Cleese
When John Cleese enters a room, he effortlessly commands attention with a quick smile and a glance looking down from his gangly 6’6” frame.
“Professor-at-Large — a wonderful phrase, [as if] they bring me here in a cage,” Cleese said.
Cleese visits campus once every few years to deliver witty lectures on everything from religion to human development to wildlife conservation.
The actor, comedian and former Monty Python member, is best known for his ’70s BBC television work.
His recent film roles include the two Harry Potter movies, Die Another Day and Rat Race.
Mission to Mars
It cannot be seen through the rainclouds, but somewhere up in the sky, two rovers are driving around on Mars collecting data.
Last semester, students and faculty had to go no farther than Goldwin Smith Hall to reap the benefits. Prof Steve Squyres Ph.D.’78, astronomy, who is the mission’s science team leader, gave an overview of the mission to a packed audience in the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium and explained how the rovers work and what they found.
Science Guy
Although he’s currently most fond of evolutionary biology, Bill Nye ’77 keeps the periodic table close to his heart. Or at least to his hip, where he always carries a credit card-sized version of it around in his wallet.
Although the public knows him best for his television show Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye is currently serving as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professor.
Students may have spot him cycling around campus on a bicycle, Nye’s preferred form of transportation, borrowed from Prof. Jim Bell, astronomy.
After the two met in a chance encounter, Bell invited Nye to become a visiting professor and they have worked together ever since.
Magical Mushrooms
Fascinated by fungi? Take one of Cornell’s most popular courses, Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds (PL PLA 201).
Taught by Prof. George Hudler, plant pathology, the class, which focuses on how mold and fungi have impacted social and political structure throughout the course of history, has been featured in Rolling Stone.
Despite the seemingly esoteric nature of the topic, the course has grown primarily through word-of-mouth and its accessibility to non-scientists.