Life’s a Risk!

An Interdisciplinary and Interactive Statistics Course

Linda C. Thiel
Ursinus College

Ursinus College: Liberal Arts College of 1250 students
Course: IDS 151Q Life’s a Risk (Syllabus)
Audience for the course: Non-science majors, primarily first year students
Team: Linda C. Thiel, Mathematics and Computer Science and Ellen Dawley, Biology


Idea for course from 1995 Project Kaleidoscope Assembly of Faculty for the 21st Century, Interdisciplinary Discussion Group 27.

Getting the course approved:

My background:

Getting up to speed:

The pilot course:

Text and readings: Lecture activities: Sample of selected readings: Labs:

Bacteria: Hand washing laboratory activities
From the Activities Exchange, Handwashing module by Christine L. Case
Reading: "A Reported at Large: The Dead Zone," Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, September 29, 1997.

Human Gene Testing
Detection of ALU Insertion Ploymorphisms by Polymerase Chain Reaction, Laboratory DNA Science, by Bloom, Freyer, Micklos
Reading: "Beyond Discovery: The Path from Research to Human Benefit, National Academy of Science article called Human Gene Testing

"Local Waters: Questions and Answers"
From Women in Chemistry, Laboratory Modules, by Judith Halstead;
Collected and analyzed water from a local river.

Climate Change: Global Warming
Analysis of data from the National Geophysical Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
Reading: "The Great Climate Flip Flop", the Atlantic Monthly, January 1998.

Culinary Chemistry
How to Minimize the Loss of Vitamin C When Cooking Vegetables
Lab: Titration of the vitamin C lost in cooking
Reading: "Broccoli Sprouts Anew as Possible Cancer Preventative," Natalie Angier, The New York Times, September 16, 1997.

Basic Microbiology and Ames Test
Pesticides and Eggshell Thinning
Ames test for detecting possible chemical carcinogens

Radon Gas U.S. Geological Survey Web site;
Background reading on some atomic principles;
Used Minitab to determine if there is a correlation between indoor radon and soil gas radon;
Collected radon readings from buildings on campus.

Helpful Web site: ChemLinks

Class Project:
Analysis of Risk for 15-24 Year Olds: Main cause of deaths
Some Web sites:

Ellen Dawley has provided more information about the Labs.

Changes I will make when I teach the course again:

Changes the college has suggested: Course to run in Fall 1999: Conclusions: This page is maintained by Linda Thiel, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Ursinus College.