Don’t Stress Out! A Study of Stress from Molecules to Thought

a Discovery Core Experience

May be taken as either BCORE 110 (Natural Sciences) or BCORE 107 (Social Sciences)

About This Course

In this course we will explore the nature of thought from a material perspective in comparison to more traditional approaches. We consider our thought and feelings from individual cells in our brain to the chemical messengers that connect the many cells in our brain to hormones that travel from head to toe.

What is happening in our brains when we reach for a cup of coffee in the morning? Why can I take a pill that makes me feel less sad? Is this even safe? To explore these chemical connections to thought and feeling we will literally go on a hike.

We will make measurements of stress markers naturally found in saliva to compare with our own self-check in. We will explore the impact of long-term elevation of stress markers for ourselves and for our society.

What is Stress?

What really is stress? What happens to us when we feel stressed? How can we reduce stress? Is stress always bad? In class we take a broad, multi-disciplinary look at the stress response: from the stress molecules in our bodies to our thoughts and health, means to measure stress, and, importantly, ways to de-stress. We will literally go on a hike to experiment with one potential method of de-stressing and to better understand our own stress. Student-led presentations on varied stress topics and class-led experimental design of the hike are key components of this interactive (and active) class experience.

Individually, students will submit a written piece connecting an assessment of perceived stress with salivary cortisol levels. Students collect their own saliva sample for cortisol analysis (kit available) prior to hike in a park. The park is somewhat distant from other people, forested, and relatively free of traffic or other manmade noise. During this 1-2 hour hike students will be asked to journal during breaks about how they are feeling as a form of data in addition to another saliva sample. Students collect a final cortisol sample at the end of the hike. These samples, in a subsequent class are analyzed and connections between salivary cortisol levels and stress are made.

Dr. Scott Shippy (he/him/his)

School of Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics

About Professor Shippy

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Chemistry (Analytical)
Hope College, BS Biochemistry

Academic analytical chemist with years of experience in directing innovative research in analytical method and tool development.

  • Principal investigator on multiple federally funded proposals
  • Research director of 20 PhD, 4 MS and 80 undergraduate researchers
  • Corresponding author of over 40 publications and two patent disclosures
  • Invited reviewer on over 22 federal research review panels.
  • Course development and teaching: analytical chemistry and general chemistry