Course Overview

Throughout our history, advances in science have also occasionally brought about cataclysmic changes in society and our view of our place in the Universe.  Galileo’s telescope moved the center of the universe, Gutenberg’s press enlightened the masses, Newton’s apple showed the predictability of actions, and others revolutionized our understanding.  In this short course, you will begin a fascinating journey into how our quest for knowledge has shaped and fundamentally changed our understanding our ourselves and our place in both our inner and outer Universes.

All students who successfully complete the course will receive a Certificate of Completion and have the opportunity to request a Syracuse University noncredit transcript.

Learning Objectives

  • To explore how intertwined technological and scientific development is with cultural and societal change.
  • To consider how specific scientific breakthroughs have had long-range effects across time and culture, including the work of Galileo.
  • To consider the question of whether there is the possibility of “absolute knowledge to discover-or whether the universe is ultimately what we say it is.”
  • To understand better the process of scientific investigation and research.

Course Information

Course Prefix and Number: SCN 177

Format: Online

Eligibility: Students must be of junior, or senior status – or a 2024 high school graduate who have completed High School Biology and Chemistry courses. 

Credit: Noncredit

Grading: Pass/Fail

Cost: $1,995
Program rates are subject to change and will be approved by the board of trustees. Discounts and scholarships are also available.

Program Information

Summer College – Online: Explore college life before stepping foot on campus! High school students can enroll in a college-level course, pursue their academic interests, and meet likeminded students in daily virtual events and activities.

Course Dates and Details

ProgramCourse DatesSynchronous Class Time (Eastern Time)Credit/NoncreditStatus
Summer College – Online3-Week Session I: Monday, July 8 – Thursday, July 25, 2024Wednesdays;
6:30 – 8 p.m.

Course Requirements

Required Supplies


  • James Burke “The Day the University Changed” USBN-13 9780316091916

Instructions on how to order the textbook can be found here.


  • Sketchbook/journal and writing supplies

Typical Day

Tentative Schedule

  • Students will read assigned chapters from the textbook (James Burke “The Day the University Changed” (USBN 0316117064; Little, Brown and Company: avail. through Amazon and elsewhere)
  • Students will complete several hours of self-study of the key topics from the textbook and complete an online assessment of their understanding.  These learning assessments will be discussed later.
  • Meet weekly for synchronous sessions with instructor to discuss the assigned considerations.

When class is over, and on weekends, students can look forward to various Summer College virtual activities to meet and connect with other students across the world. Check out our Virtual Campus Experience page for more information!

Faculty Bios

James T. Spencer

Dr. James Spencer joined the faculty at Syracuse University after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in organometallic chemistry from Iowa State University, and his undergraduate studies at S.U.N.Y. College at Potsdam.  Prof. Spencer has received several honors for his research and teaching work including the “Distinguished Achievements in Boron Science” Award from the BUSA International Conference.  He is the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Distinguished Teaching Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he received the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence, the highest award recognition for SU faculty and staff in recognition of outstanding achievement in teaching, scholarship and creative work. He also received the Excellence in Teaching Award from University College in 2009. He has been active in organizing a variety of scientific meetings for both the American Chemical Society and the BUSA International Conference, in addition to serving as co-chair for the 10th and 11th Foresight Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology. Dr. Spencer has presented numerous invited lectures including at the IMEBORON X International Conference, the Gordon Research Conference in Inorganic Chemistry, and the International Symposium on Solid State Imaging and CVD. He has also served as a consultant for the Lockheed Martin Corporation, General Electric Corporation, the Merix Corporation, and International Business Machines, among others.

Dr. Spencer is the author of ~90 scientific papers and has presented over 200 lectures at regional, national and international venues.  Spencer’s research involves the study of solid-state, main group and organometallic chemistry and includes projects in solid state chemistry on boron-containing and nanostructural materials.  Current projects are focused upon the development of a new generation of sensors using chemically functionalized piezoelectric solid state devices.  These new materials will provide rapid, highly sensitive, exceptionally selective, and readily adaptable new sensors for key analytes with applications to medicine, forensic science and national security. 

Dr. Spencer founded the University’s Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute (FNSSI) where he currently serves as its Founding Executive Director. The Institute brings together work from many disciplines and provides a program of excellence, uniquely positioned to make significant contributions to combat crime and promote national security through research, teaching, and professional outreach: the nation’s first program that comprehensively focuses upon the breadth and depth scholarship in forensic and national security sciences and is establishing groundbreaking research based upon rigorous scientific investigation and technical ability. He has completed work on a new introductory textbook in Forensic Science (2021).  Dr. Spencer has also served as the Associate Dean for Science, Mathematics and Research in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences (2009-2014).

In addition to his scientific pursuits, Spencer also directs the national award-winning Syracuse University Brass Ensemble, having begun his studies at SUNY Potsdam in brass music. The Ensemble is composed of over forty professional-level musicians from Syracuse University, Upstate Medical University, and surrounding Upstate New York communities. The Ensemble, the Ensemble-in-Residence in the College of Arts and Sciences and based in Hendricks Chapel, is a year-round organization which presents some twenty performances each year.  These include a variety of recitals on the Syracuse University Campus and performances in and around the northeast and the Ensemble has won a number of prestigious national awards for their performances.