COOL CLASSES: “The Biology Behind Breakthroughs in Health and Medicine”

This health studies course explores the biological basis for, discoveries behind, and dissemination of medical advances that profoundly influence the quality of life, including antibiotics, anesthetics, HAART therapy, immunotherapy, stem cells and gene editing.

Class name: “The Biology Behind Breakthroughs in Health and Medicine”

Taught by: Visiting Professor of Independent College Programs (and former Haverford Biology Professor) Jennifer Punt


Here’s what Punt had to say about her class:

I hope to give students some insights into the discoveries behind medical breakthroughs—not just biological mechanisms (which are fascinating) but the people and history that contributed, too. However, we’ll start first by defining what a medical “breakthrough” really means—how others define it and how we would like to define it as a class. Although I claim a few topics for the class—including some classic breakthroughs like the germ theory of disease, the discovery of insulin, antibiotics, and the treatment for cholera—I also leave plenty of room for topics that the class itself chooses. Each week, we also explore how breakthroughs are communicated to professionals and the public in student led “medicine in the media” sessions.  We’ll work to figure out what role publicity played/plays in what we think of as breakthroughs.

Why? I’ve always enjoyed learning about where our ideas come from—the context of our knowledge. Discovery isn’t a linear process, even though it can be conveyed that way. It is wonderfully and sometimes tragically messy. How we sort through failures and figure out what can truly help others seems a worthy topic of exploration in a class.  I also hope our review of medicine in the media will help all of us bring critical eyes to what we read—an important skill for this new world of ours.

All in all, I loved teaching “Perspectives in Biology” [introductory courses for non-majors] when I was a biology prof at Haverford, and my re-immersion into the medical world at Columbia University inspired me to design this course for a diverse class of young Haverford scholars.


See what other courses the Health Studies Program is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.

Photo of “the laboratory where insulin was discovered” courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.