From Pee to the Pill: Man's Quest for Immortality

Spring 2017

FRPG 2057
Instructor: Babasola Fateye
Meeting Days/Times: Tuesday and Thursday 10:10 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.
This course fulfills the FYS general education requirement.

In search of the “Philosopher’s stone,” the mythical element that was believed to confer immortality and also to turn metals into gold, 17th century alchemists extracted thousands of gallons of human urine. Three centuries later—for unrelated reasons—chemicals also obtained from urine were pivotal in research that led to the discovery of contraceptives. Since medieval times, humans have sought chemicals from diverse sources for use as remedies, as pesticides, as agents for warfare etc. Although many of these chemicals helped man to indeed conquer diseases, control pests and revolutionize agriculture, some of these innovations came with controversial and/or unintended effects. The media is awash with news that fuel these controversies: “Sex-Changing Chemicals Found in Potomac River”; “Widely Used Herbicide Linked to Cancer” and so on. Such controversies have driven an unending search for ‘natural’ alternatives devoid of these unwanted effects. Are these alternatives feasible? In this class, we will explore some historical examples of chemicals that significantly altered existing knowledge and practice in healthcare and agriculture in the 19th and 20th century; we will also examine how these discoveries shaped the development of the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries. Students will pursue individual and group research projects on social, economic, or scientific implications of historical or contemporary cases. Neither chemistry nor biology is a pre-requisite for this course.

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