Energy and the Environment

Edward Stermer,
Illinois Central College


This course provides students not majoring in science with an opportunity to study world energy and environmental issues while learning basic concepts of physical science (physics, chemistry, earth science).

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This course is recommended for undergraduate students who desire to build a background of information useful in keeping abreast of future developments in areas such as education, business, agriculture, economics and marketing.

Course Content:

The class focuses mainly on the formation and consumption fossil fuels and their effect on the environment and the available alternative energy sources. The following is a list of topics currently discussed in the class: Energy and Modern Society, Science and Technology, Energy and Power, Conservation of Energy, Atomic Theory, Thermodynamics, Solar Energy, Solar Heating Systems, Electricity, Power Plants, Carbon Cycle, Illinois Coal, Petroleum, Gasoline and Biofuels, Air Pollution, The Climate System, Climate Change, Electricity from Solar and Wind, and Nuclear Power

Course Goals:

Since my class part of the college's general education requirements, I have a unique opportunity to educate a wide range of students, most of whom have a very limited science background. The goals of my class are to:
1) help students become more aware of the science of energy and its effects on our society; and
2) improve their critical thinking skills in order to make better decisions about energy/environment issues in their daily lives.

Course Features:

Laboratory assignments and class activities are designed to challenge students not just in content material (which is important in a survey level class), but how to apply mathematics and the scientific method to analyze and solve problems. One activity that helps bring all aspects of this course together is a solar house contest which is conducted at the end of every semester. See the attachments for more details about this activity.

Course Philosophy:

Since this may be the only physical science class that a student will take in college, I have a responsibility to not only teach the basic concepts of science and but how it is applied to modern energy and environmental issues. Too many young people are either apathetic to the current energy situation or have been mislead by poor information from special interest groups (environmental, political, industry, etc). I want students to be able to analyze both sides of an issue and make a well reasoned decision.


Students are assessed using exams (both in class and online) and completion of class/lab activities.


Class Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 129kB May6 09)

Teaching Materials:

Solar House Contest (Acrobat (PDF) 99kB May13 09)

References and Notes:

Energy: Its Use and the Environment. Hinrichs and Kleinbach