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York launches science, technology program

Cathy Barrett may not have grown up in the web age, but that hasn’t stopped her from embracing it.

Cathy Barrett may not have grown up in the web age, but that hasn’t stopped her from embracing it.

“Even though I’m a child of the ’60s and ’70s, the Internet and the sort of ‘instant access to data’ — I’m in nirvana when I’ve got that,” says Barrett, 50, who has worked as a medical secretary and in information technology.

Not surprisingly then, the everyday impact of science and technology is a subject that has long piqued her interest. “I never actually wanted to pursue science as a scientist,” she says. “I was always interested more in the ideas of science and how it affects us as a society.”

Barrett will have the chance to explore those notions further in York University’s new Science and Technology Studies (STS) graduate program, which launches this fall.

The program, the first of its kind in Canada, is for “anyone who is interested in understanding science’s place in the modern world,” says Bernard Lightman, the program’s founder and director. “They would come (to York) and use the history, philosophy and social studies of science to understand that.”

It is only in the past two decades that STS has developed as a field of study around the world, says Lightman. Its broad interdisciplinary approach is a departure from past academia, which focused primarily on the history and philosophy of science.

York’s STS graduate program, which is starting with an enrolment of about 16 students this year, will examine four areas of science and technology: Bioscience and biotechnologies, human-machine interactions, public science, and physical systems.

Areas of study will range from such timely topics as epidemics to futuristic elements including cyborgs and mind-controlled devices.

Incoming master’s student Amy Teitel already has her sights set on a particular subject.

“I’m actually looking at the history of human-machine relationships in space flight, so I’m focusing on the early ’60s,” says Teitel, 24, who comes to the program with an undergraduate degree in combined classics and history of science and technology. “That stream (human-machine interactions) specifically was what drew me to York.”

Graduates are projected to work in such areas as government policy-making, education, science journalism, and media, where they will help shed light on the role and consequences of science and technology in daily life, says Lightman.

“I think we’re all so used to the pervasive influence of science that we sometimes don’t even notice it — same thing with technology,” he says.

“So our program is really designed to take things that are sometimes invisible to us, sometimes things that we take for granted and accepted assumptions about the world, and try to understand how they came to be accepted.”

 
 
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