Who Are We? 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 Kind of Work Will We Do?

In groups, students will select a supplement or drug that has a function of altering the nervous system in some way and will explain why it is used and how it is purported to be changing the nervous system. This project will include an evaluation of efficacy and potential hazards/general safety.

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


Email: sshippy@uw.edu