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Course Schedules

LIRA operates on a two-semester plan during the spring and fall that generally runs eight weeks. Members may participate in as many courses as desired.

FALL 2017 Schedule

Registration will take place at the Fall Convocation on Wednesday, September 13 at 10 a.m. in Cumnock Hall, 31 University Avenue, Lowell. Each course description includes, after the title, the name of the person who is presenter or facilitator. Below the paragraph is the name of the course coordinator who makes the arrangements and has responsibility for carrying out details of the class. Questions may be addressed to the facilitator/coordinator or Nancy Pitkin, Curriculum Chair.

Fall study groups will meet at the Campus Recreation Center, 322 Aiken Street, Lowell, MA, Room #111.

The location of classes sometimes change so watch for announcements.


Science Café

Presenter: Professor Robert Gamache

Seven Mondays, 10 a.m. - Noon September 18, 25, October 2, 16, 23, 30, November 6

In this course the role of critical thinking in the development of scientific theories will be explored. We will look at several major areas of science with a focus on the link between conceptual thought and the resulting physical laws. Courses like this get names like Physics for Poets or Science for Dummies. However, most people are not poets or dummies. How about Science for the Average Person? We'll make observations and think about what has happened. Results will be explained in terms non-scientists can understand, no equations necessary.

At this point in history, an informed electorate is essential. How we assess data and make decisions about scientific/technological/environmental issues as they are presented to us by elected officials and the media puts our critical thinking skills to a test. It takes work to determine if that latest report is hoax or fraud.

Robert Gamache is Professor Emeritus at UMass Lowell in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Environmental Sciences

Some topics include:

  • Why are things the way they are?
  • Critical thinking skills. How to debunk a snake oil salesperson!
  • Early logic and observation. Curved Earth-flat Earth, seasons, days in a year.
  • Why did we think the Earth was the center of the universe? Why don't we think so anymore?
  • Do things fall down or in other directions?
  • You know what inertia is, you just probably don't know it!
  • We are all made of stuff; what is that stuff?
  • What we thought - Earth, air, fire, and water; what we now think.
  • Where did the universe come from? Where did Earth come from? Where did we come from?

Coordinator Suzanne Gamache*

America in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era

Presenter: Marti Spaulding

Three Mondays, 1-3 p.m. September 18, 25, October 2

Meet some of the important figures from America's progressive era, including Roosevelt and Carnegie. Look at the cities, technology, and progression of thought that led to a modern culture defined through the Gilded Age. See the explosion of the Suffrage movement and the battle to win the women's right to vote. This fascinating course by Holy Cross professor Edward O’Donnell will explore the massive changes that reshaped America during the Gilded Age (1865-1900) and the Progressive Era (1900–1920). This will be a continuation of last year’s course, but the lectures are not dependent on any previous knowledge

Facilitator: Bob Hanlon*

Politics of the Veil

Presenter: Professor Patricia Fontaine

Four Mondays, 1-3 p.m. October 16, 23, 30, November 6

It has been said that France is currently fighting an intifada, a guerrilla war with its former colonies. This seminar will look at French colonial practices of the 19th and 20th century, educational doctrine of secularism and political policies around the wearing of the veil to fully understand how and why France is fighting a war on terrorism between its republican self and the Muslim world of North Africa.

Facilitator: Nancy Pitkin*


Shakespeare: "The Tempest"

Facilitator: Frank Carroll*

Eight Tuesdays, 10 a.m. - Noon, September 19, 26, October 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, November 7

When I open my “Complete Works of Shakespeare” text, the “Tempest” is the first play in the book. I find this somewhat peculiar, because it is probably the last play that he wrote and presented on the stage. There is some internal evidence for that idea that this is his last play and we will certainly look at those lines and form our own opinions.

Yes we are going to read the “Tempest” this fall and as we go along some may wonder how did Shakespeare ever think up this convoluted plot? We all know that in most of his plays we can find literary works of many authors from whom he was able to draw some ideas of the plot but this one is a mystery. However, there were in 1610, several stories in print in England about a shipwreck off Bermuda and many think this is what lent him the notion for this play. Well, we will think about that. In any case, come along and please bring a text.

Coordinator: Terri Munson*

The Story of the Bible

Presenter: Toby Hodes*

Eight Tuesdays, 1 - 3 p.m. September 19, 26, October 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, November 7

Since the invention of the printing press, the world's consistently bestselling book has been the Bible. Since 1815, it has been printed an estimated five billion times. By the end of 2005, it had been translated into 2,043 languages. We will explore the fascinating history of the Bible: How, when and why did it enter the world? What have been the stages of its growth? In how many forms has it appeared? How has it exercised its influence? The story stretches from the first ancient collections of Jewish law to the present day, and we will study it all from a variety of points of view.

Coordinator: Nancy Pitkin*


Art and Music

Seven Wednesdays September 27, October 5, 11, 18, 25, November 1, 8

Please visit the Art and Music Series page to see the schedule for dates, times, topics, presenters and coordinators of this series. The indoor classes will be held at University Suites.


Great Decisions

Facilitator: Richard Grove*

Seven Thursdays, 10 a.m. - Noon, September 21, 28, October 12, 19, 26, November 2, 9

One Wednesday October 4

Great Decisions is America's largest discussion program on world affairs. The program model involves reading the Great Decisions Briefing Book, watching the DVD and meeting in a Discussion Group to discuss the most critical global issues facing America today. Two weekly two-hour sessions explore each topic in depth. This is a time of dramatic change with Britain leaving the EU, populism and nationalism rising, and Trump policies on climate change, NATO, Russia and China. Topics for the fall are: Latin America’s Political Pendulum, Prospects for Afghanistan and Pakistan, The Future of Europe, and Nuclear Security.

Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition (Continued)

Presenter: Peter Sebelius*

Three Thursdays 1 - 3 p.m. September 21, 28, October 12

One Wednesday October 4

This course begins with an overview of the first part given last fall; specifically theories of physical reality starting with Aristotle through to Newtonian or the "classical" physics. The review will culminate with Einstein's theory of general relativity and its interpretation of gravitation in terms of the curvature of space and time. We will look at an extreme case of gravitation and space curvature: the black hole.

The course will then address quantum theory, touching the very basis of physical reality, altering our commonsense notions of space and time, cause and effect. Quantum theory is a vision of physical reality so at odds with our experience that even our language fails to describe the quantum world adequately.

Both general relativity and quantum mechanics are considered exceedingly complex; but the basic ideas behind them are, in fact, simple and comprehensible by everyone. This course presents these concepts in plain English with no mathematics so that everyone can understand them.

If time permits (and it will if we travel fast enough) we will touch on the most recent advances in the physics realm including the discovery of Gravity waves, quantum entanglement and the confirmation of the Higgs Boson.

Open to All: You do not need to have participated in the Part One to attend.

Coordinator: Skip Youngberg*

Law and Civil Liberties

Presenter: Professor Frank Talty

Four Thursdays 1 - 3 p.m. October 26, November 2, 9,16

The class will cover four areas of constitutional law that relate to Americans civil liberties: the freedom of speech and press, religious freedom, rights of the criminally accused and privacy rights/reproductive rights. In each category we will cover a number of Supreme Court cases that developed the law in those areas.

Coordinator: Sally Coulter*


Book Discussion 10 a.m. - Noon

Facilitator: Toby Hodes*

Do you like to read fiction or perhaps the classics, or are biographies your preference? Perhaps, you are an aficionado of non-fiction. Whatever your genre preference, guaranteed sometime during the year the book group will read and discuss an example thereof. And what is more inviting to a passionate reader than an opportunity to discuss a book - like it or hate it – with other like-minded people? Our discussions are always lively, interesting, and varied, and a new point of view is always welcome. Here are the fall selections:

  • September 15 Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell - - Hint: It is 737 pages, so you might want to start reading this now
  • October 20 The Sympathizer, fiction by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • November 17 Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - non-fiction by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • December 15 The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, fiction by Carson McCullers (FYI: It is considered to be one of the best books of the 20th century

*Indicates LIRA member.