BIOL 427
The Nitrogen Problem Fall 2024
Division III

Class Details

Nitrogen (N) is a critical component of the proteins and DNA on which living organisms depend, and its availability has historically limited growth in many land ecosystems. In the early 20th century, the development of the Haber-Bosch process, which converts atmospheric dinitrogen gas to biologically-usable ammonium, and the subsequent production of synthetic N fertilizers fundamentally changed the global N landscape. Widespread fertilizer use led to dramatic increases in agricultural yields, which has contributed to our ability to feed and sustain a growing human population, but also generated acute ecological externalities. In this seminar, we will use the primary literature to understand the ways in which a century of fertilizer use has changed the global N cycle, and the effects of those changes on plant (and animal) physiology, community composition and biodiversity, soil biogeochemistry, and aquatic ecosystem health. We will then consider the promises and challenges of new strategies to improve ecosystem N management while supporting robust food production in our changing climate. Discussions and writing assignments will focus on reading and critiquing the scientific literature. Course will culminate with the preparation of a five page grant proposal, with opportunities for peer review and revision.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 1934
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Class participation, two three-page papers, five page grant proposal.
Prerequisites: BIOL/ENVI 203 or BIOL/ENVI 220 or BIOL 308 or BIOL 329 or ENVI 339
Enrollment Preferences: Senior biology majors who have not taken a 400-level course
Distributions: Division III

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