Scientific Reasoning and Discovery

Students will explore modern scientific topics in depth using a hands-on, inquiry-based learning approach, with the goal of enhancing general scientific and mathematical literacy. Each semester, students will use the basic tools and methodologies of a specific scientific discipline; reflect on both the strengths and limitations of modern science; apply the scientific method; develop hypotheses and conduct experiments; recognize the importance of collecting accurate and precise data; use scientific reasoning and statistics to draw logical conclusions from data; consider sources of scientific error and uncertainty; and accurately communicate scientific information and results. By engaging in a Scientific Reasoning & Discovery seminar each semester, students will connect basic science to its varied applications in society and develop the important habit of critically evaluating scientific claims. A variety of course topics will be offered each semester in disciplines such as biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, etc., reflecting each instructor’s particular area of expertise.

First year students take one Scientific Reasoning and Discovery course each semester.

First year students may also take a Scientific Reasoning and Discovery alternative instead of Scientific Reasoning and Discovery (HONR 1033 and HONR 1034).

Fall 2023 Courses


Life: A Journey Through Earth's Biodiversity

Professor Thiago Moreira

HONR 1033:MV - 4 Credits

CRN 41791

MW 9:00AM - 10:50AM


HONR 1033:MV1 - 4 Credits

CRN 41413

MW 1:00PM - 2:50PM


  • GPAC Scientific Reasoning (natural/physical science with lab)
  • GPAC Local/Civic Engagement

Course Description: “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” — John James Audubon

Are you alive? What is it to be alive? What are the limits of life? How diverse is life? Our planet is brimming with life. From the deeps of the oceans to the tallest mountains, we find different life forms. Some beautiful, some scary, some intriguing, and some… weird. But all amazing. To understand better the lifeforms around us and how they connect to the planet is to understand ourselves better. In this course, we will explore life on our planet in a broad aspect. We will explore the major groups of living things and how they come to be. How different lifeforms are interconnected, and how they relate and interact with other. How life started and (almost) ended (several times!). We will use modern biological theory to get foundational knowledge about the sciences that explore biodiversity and its relations with the planet. We will study how we use science and its methodologies to recognize, describe and catalog the several different lifeforms on the planet and how to use this knowledge to ask meaningful, scientific questions about life. Once we have a solid basis, we can permit ourselves to ponder a bit about the most theoretical and philosophical aspects of life: when does life starts? When does it end? Are we alone in the universe? How can we recognize alien life when (or if) we ever find some? By the end of our encounters, you will have a deeper understanding of life on Earth, its varieties, and the importance of preserving it for future generations.

Physics of Everything

Professor Naveen Jha

HONR 1033:MV2 - 4 Credits

CRN 48382

MW 3:00PM - 4:50PM


  • GPAC Scientific Reasoning (natural/physical science with lab)
  • GPAC Local/Civic Engagement

Course Description: While we may not often think about it, physics plays a significant role in all of our day-to-day lives. From the simple actions we take while riding a bike or throwing a ball, to the complex systems and technology that make modern life possible (such as airplanes, iPhones, and MRIs), the fundamentals of physics are everywhere. This course will engage you in recognizing, understanding and appreciating how physics has driven the development of our modern society over the last century. We will focus on inventions and concepts that we encounter daily or those that were especially revolutionary for their time, considering both their historical importance and understanding the physical principles behind each. How we move, communicate, and use technology will be explored! Specific topics include, for example, the steam engine, cars & airplanes, computers & smartphones, X-rays/ultrasounds & MRIs, nuclear weapons, lasers, and even musical instruments. This course includes hands-on labs and activities to help build understanding of the concepts and principles being discussed and students will be expected to actively participate in the classroom. Alongside the development of scientific literacy, the course will include mathematical problem solving (confined to algebra and geometry) to build numeracy. Through laboratory experiments, students will gain familiarity with the modern scientific method, including drawing logical conclusions and analyzing sources of scientific uncertainty.

Bio:  Dr. Jha is a biophysicist specializing in live-cell imaging. He currently serves as an instructor and lab coordinator in the GW Department of Physics and previously worked as a fellow in the Department of Hematology at the FDA and with the Johns Hopkins Institute of Human Virology. 


Professor Bethany Cobb Kung

HONR 1033:MV4 - 4 Credits

CRN 41411

TR 9:00AM - 10:50AM


HONR 1033:MV7 - 4 Credits

CRN 42105

TR 11:00AM - 12:50PM


  • GPAC Scientific Reasoning (natural/physical science with lab)
  • GPAC Local/Civic Engagement

Course Description: Our lives are a complex web of energy, yet we never give energy much thought. Only when energy resources (e.g. oil, solar, nuclear) become big news do people start paying attention. But how can we be savvy consumers of energy rhetoric without a basic understanding of the fundamental physics of energy? This course will serve as an introduction to the physics of energy, from the basics, e.g. kinetic vs. potential energy, to more complex issues such as energy production, storage and transportation. We will explore alternative energy sources such as solar and nuclear energy.

Topics to be covered will include:

* The physics of energy: work, power, heat, electromagnetic radiation, electricity

* Energy storage and transportation: fuels, batteries, the electrical grid

* Nuclear physics: atoms, quantum mechanics, fission and fusion

* Energy resources: coal, wind, alternative fuels, solar, nuclear

Throughout the course, students will also tackle the fundamentals of science including the scientific method, experimentation and error measurement. Quantitative analysis will be emphasized to help build problem solving abilities and mathematical intuition (mathematics will be confined to algebra and geometry). This course is designed to increase student scientific curiosity and science literacy. Students will be expected to take an active role in the classroom, where we will explore these topics through lecture, discussion, debate, writing, experimentation, group projects and mathematical exercises.


Your Place in Nature

Professor Bernard Wood

HONR 1033:12 - 4 Credits

CRN 43259

TR 11:10AM - 1:00PM

Note: This course is taught on the Foggy Bottom campus. 


  • GPAC Scientific Reasoning (natural/physical science with lab)
  • GPAC Local/Civic Engagement

Course Description: The course will compare and contrast what was known about ‘Man’s Place in Nature’ in 1863 with what we think we know now. It will cover the history of ideas about our relationship with the rest of the natural world, how we work out how animals are related, the fossil record for human evolution and the growth of the sciences involved in the interpretation of that fossil record. It will explore the social and intellectual context of relevant discoveries as well as the biographies of the people who made major contributions to working out the relationships among the great apes and to the recovery and interpretation of the fossil evidence for human evolution.

Bio: Dr. Wood, a physician, surgeon and paleoanthropologist, is the University Professor of Human Origins and a Professor of Evolutionary Anatomy. As a medical student, he joined Richard Leakey on an expedition and he has been pursuing research into paleoanthropology ever since, using fossil records to develop a better understanding of the evolution of the human lineage. 

Scientific Reasoning and Discovery Alternatives

Any first year student may select to take one of the pre-approved courses below. If you are an engineering student or a student majoring/minoring in a physical or biological science, we strongly recommend you complete whichever of the following introductory courses is required for your program (especially those introductory courses that are prerequisites for later courses in your program). 


BISC 1111: Introductory Biology: Cells and Molecules
BISC 1112: Introductory Biology: The Biology of Organisms 

CHEM 1111: General Chemistry I
CHEM 1112: General Chemistry II

PHYS 1011: General Physics I
PHYS 1012: General Physics II
PHYS 1021: University Physics I
PHYS 1022: University Physics II
PHYS 1025: University Physics I with Biological Applications (recommended for pre-med students with strong calculus skills)
PHYS 1026: University Physics II with Biological Applications (recommended for pre-med students with strong calculus skills)

Engineering students or students majoring in a physical or biological science who have already completed the introductory science sequences for their major (via AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment) should speak with a Program Manager about applying an upper-level BSCI/CHEM/PHYS/SEAS lab course to the UHP science requirement (which might necessitate a delay in completing the UHP science requirement).