Course program information sheet

Innovation and French Science: Past, Present, and Future

PHYS 314 / WGST 314  / HSTY 314 / CHEM 314

May 8 – 27, 2022


Prof. Charles Rosenblatt (Physics;



Official Study Abroad web site for registration:



Introductory video (0:56)

Full Video (3:20)


Course description: PHYS 314 (and crosslists) is a short-term study abroad opportunity. Conducted in English, it explores the development of science and technology in France from the ancien régime through the turbulent 19th and 20th centuries, and its more recent renaissance.  The focus will be on understanding the science and technology and how they developed, especially in relation to the social, political, economic, and military milieu of the times. Comparisons will be made with contemporaneous scientific developments in other countries.  A component will focus on the contributions of women to French science, including the important roles of Marie Curie and others, how the national science agency CNRS is promoting women, and understanding why women in France play an outsized role in the sciences, at least compared to elsewhere in the EU and the United States. To understand the science, technology, and the concomitant societal issues, students will visit historical sites such as the laboratories of Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, Gustave Eiffel, Antoine Lavoisier, as well as Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop in the Loire Valley.  Important sites such as the original Foucault pendulum, as well as haut-de-gamme research facilities such as the SOLEIL Synchrotron outside Paris, the Large Hadron Collider in France / Switzerland, and the CORIA fluids laboratory in Rouen, are also on the agenda. Students will have guided discussions with a number of active scientists and engineers from various disciplines (physics, chemistry, civil and aerospace engineering), backgrounds (university, private industry), genders, and ages (from senior faculty and CNRS directors to junior faculty).  To supplement these site visits and meetings, readings will come from the fields of science and technology, history, social studies, and French literature (either in French or English translation, as appropriate for the student). The course will count for Global and Cultural Diversity credit and may be used to meet certain distribution requirements.

Course objectives: At the end of the course, students will have gained an understanding of -- and appreciation for -- French scientific contributions, including the science itself and the underlying political and social environment of the period. Students will analyze why women constitute such a large and important component of the French scientific enterprise, and how such representation came about, especially as compared to what has traditionally been the case in the U.S.  Based on the site visits, readings, and discussions in the course, students will demonstrate their knowledge through a number of written assessments that test their mastery of the general subject matter by comparing and contrasting scientific and technological development in light of contemporaneous trends in culture and society. Students also will gain an understanding of the evolution of scientific equipment from late 18th century kit (such Antoine Lavoisier’s chemistry laboratory – this is where oxygen was discovered -- and the “computerized” Jacquard silk loom) to present-day large facilities (such as CERN and the SOLEIL synchrotron) found in only a few locations on the planet.

Sample Course readings:

·        An Explanation of the Higgs Boson by Matthew Buckley

·        Aviation’s Huge Debt to the French by Nicola Clark

·        The Synchotron and its Light (English) OR Le synchrotron et ses lumières (FRENCH)

·        Bring the Future to Earth in Paris (1871-1914)” by Miriam Levin

·        Science and the City: Museums, Expositions, and the Modern Urban Context in the Long 19th Century by Miriam Levin

·        Le Ventre de Paris (French) OR The Belly of Paris (English) by Emile Zola

·        Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie (excerpts)

·        The Private Science of Louis Pasteur by Gerald L. Geison (excerpts)

·        Scientific Institutions and Practice in France and Britain circa 1700-1870 by Maurice Crosland (excerpts)

·        Nationalizing Science by Alan Rocke (excerpts)

·        Science Under Control: The French Academy of Sciences 1795-1914 (excerpts)

·        The Savant and the State: Science and Cultural Politics in Nineteenth-Century France by Robert Fox (excerpts)

·        The Private Science of Louis Pasteur by Gerald L. Geison (excerpts)

·        France in the Age of the Scientific State by Robert Gilpin

·        Plasmons, Shiny Metals, and Stained Glass by J. Fairfield

·        The Future of the Higgs Boson by Joseph Lykken and Maria Spiropulu

·        The Large Hadron Collider yields tantalizing hints of the Higgs boson, by B.M. Schwartzschild


Grading for the course:

·        Essays with guided questions on the site visits and readings (25%). For these essays, students can choose the discipline in which they will approach their work (scientific, medical, political, cultural, historical, etc.) and provide responses to a number of guided questions based on the activities abroad.

·        Report on interactions with guest speakers (15%). As we will meet with a number of partners in France, students will choose two guest speakers who were of the most interest to them personally and then write an analysis of their discussion, applying various ideas already covered in the course content.

·        A three-page paper dealing with either Marie Curie or Louis Pasteur (15%), her or his scientific contributions, and the role s/he played in the development of the French scientific establishment.

·        Final paper (25%) Students are to choose two of the sites visited from a list provided and discuss the larger ramifications of the activities represented by the site. Students are to approach the writing from an interdisciplinary perspective to demonstrate the depth gained from studying in France. As the site visit represents an introduction to a particular subject, the final paper allows the student to make a more in-depth study of the scientific content of the site, as well as its history and development while commenting on the scientific, social, political, and economic climate of the period that allowed for such scientific advancement. (7-10 pages)

·        Participation (20%) As the main component of the course involves travel to France, it is expected that group activities are to be of the utmost importance to all participants. Thus it is essential that students follow the calendar of activities outlined by the course syllabus. Students who miss more than two class days without documentation will receive an ‘F’ for the course.


Sample Calendar.

This is a sample calendar that may be adjusted based on the actual course dates, local holidays and travel conditions, and unanticipated changes in availability.  Note that discussions are part of every site visit experience, but there are some longer lectures / discussions that we have also set aside on the calendar below.











Week 1


Arrive, jet-lag recovery

Panthéon, (incl. Foucault pendulum, crypt);  Discussions

Meet with Emmanuelle Lacaze (9h) & William Sacks (10h); lunch at Arenes du Lutece; Musee de l’histoire Naturelle ; Jardin des Plantes

Tour of Soleil synchrotron (14h); discussions


Trip to Rouen:  Fluids laboratory (meet with Marie-Charlotte Renoult), Rouen Cathedral, Jeanne d’Arc burning site, reception with mayor at city hall


Musée de l’air et de l’espace (Le Bourget) 






Week 2



Meet with Pascal Karo 14h-15h & discussions

Meet with students at Lycee; Medical museum after 14h);

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont


Marie Curie Lab (13h-17h) ;


Trip to  CERN, Large Hadron Collider (12h, 13h, 14h)

Musée de l’Archéologie (Saint-Germain en Laye) [Ascension Day]

Musée des Arts et Métiers, 14h



Week 3




Trip to Amboise (Da Vinci’s home Clos-Lucé and François 1er Chateau Royale) 

Gustave Eiffel Laboratory tour


Pasteur Laboratory 14h30 and discussions


Lycée Louis-le-Grand (9h-10h) ; Mineralogy Museum (after 14h)

Cité de l'architecture OR Monnaie de Paris