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Art Meets Science: Literature

Open to: Grades 6 - 9
Eligibility: CTY-level or Advanced CTY-level verbal score required
Challenge Level: High School Junior
Course Format: Session Based. See calendar for session dates and application deadlines. 
Recommended School Credit: 0.25
Course Length: 10 weeks (Early Fall, Late Fall, Winter, Spring); 12 weeks (Early Summer); or 5 weeks (intensive Late Summer)
Course Code: LAMS

Course Description

About the Art Meets Science Short Courses

Book Cover Einstein's DreamsStudents discover how creative writing and scientific inquiry offer different perspectives on the same complex and unfolding universe. Central to these courses, readings are inspired by science and provide students with models for creating their own poems, stories, and essays. For example, students might consider how Einstein's theory of relativity has influenced the images and themes of 20th-century poets, or how an essay about childhood memories is enhanced by understanding neuroscience. These courses involve substantial discussion of readings as well as writing workshops in which the instructor and peers offer constructive criticism.

In Art Meets Science: Literature, students explore the connection between discovery in science and creativity on the page as they read poetry, plays, and fiction written about or inspired by scientific ideas. Vladimir Nabokov's ideal was to combine the passion of the scientist and the precision of the poet. That may sound like it should be reversed. Poets are passionate. Scientists are precise. But, the converse is also true. As students learn the craft of poetry, they see that creative writing has an element of precision. Without imagination, there is no purpose to observation; without keen observation skills, even the wildest imagination is shabbily furnished. Planck's discovery of the quantum, Einstein's theory of relativity, and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, for example, reveal a universe far stranger than previously imagined, and the students' task as writers is to inhabit that universe. Towards the end of this short course, it will become clear that observation, imagination, and the use of metaphor are all essential aspects of both science and art.

Students interact with their instructors and other students in a Web classroom, and some lessons require pre-writing exercises in addition to a final writing assignment. Also, this format includes a mandatory writers' workshop in which students comment upon each others' work.

This is a very interactive course. Students typically read, discuss, and write at least every other day (academic year) or daily (summer).

A hallmark of the Art Meets Science courses is the readings. Students need to read closely and carefully, re-reading whenever possible. In four of the five lessons, group discussion of the readings is required in order to complete the final writing assignment.

This course does not have any synchronous class meetings, but students may schedule one-on-one virtual meetings directly with the instructor.

Students may be invited to interact in CTY community spaces that include students and instructors and potentially specially invited guests that are not enrolled in their course. Student contributions (e.g., projects, forum posts, etc.) may remain in the course after the student completes the course. These artifacts may be preserved to showcase student work or to continue important conversations.

Read an excerpt.

To assess readability level, please read this excerpt from Starry Night by David Levy. Note that this excerpt is not the same excerpt used in the sample assignment.

Grammar Note

Skilled, careful writers follow the conventions of Standard Written English, but writing is much more than mere adherence to convention. Instructors discuss grammar only when it affects meaning. Writing courses are not remedial. Students must already be proficient in Standard Written English.

Materials Needed

Students are not required to purchase any additional materials or texts for this course.

Detailed Course Information

Course Details

Copyright rules prohibit displaying readings for lessons to the general public.

Lesson 1: Science and Poetry

After reading the poems of Louise McNeill and others, write your own scientific poem. Research a scientific topic -- perhaps one of the theories mentioned at the end of John Timpane's "The Poetry of Science," then write a poem that both conveys information and celebrates the science or mathematics involved.

Typical readings for this lesson:
David Levy, excerpt from Starry Night
Louise McNeill, "The Long Traveler," "The Leaf," "After Hearing a Lecture on Modern Physics," "Quadrille of the Naked Contours," "Scholastic," "Star--Map"
John Timpane, "The Poetry of Science"

Lesson 2: The Mind of the Scientist (Fiction Exercise)

As we have seen, science is a process that is characterized by both discipline and "eureka!" moments. Think about Einstein and Picasso's conversation in Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile, on how ideas come to them. Consider Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, in which each version of time is a different dream that he has. Now, research a scientist that is not very well known and write a fictional account of his/her work in general or a pivotal moment of discovery as if you were that person (use the first person point-of-view (POV)).

Typical readings for this lesson:
Steve Martin, Picasso at the Lapin Agile (excerpt)
Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams (excerpt)

Lesson 3: Conveying Concepts in Literature

After looking at the excerpt from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, write a scene in which one character is explaining a scientific concept to another. "Explain" a scientific concept in a creative way, either by writing a scene from a play with dialogue, or a more fanciful piece of fiction. Or, you might write from the point of view of a character who couldn't have observed what she is explaining. For example, she may be too small, it may be too hot or cold for humans to exist, or she may be larger than entire planets or even galaxies. Consider the section of Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics, where a scientific concept is explained from the point of view of a character who was "present" at an early time when the universe was evolving.

Typical reading for this lesson:
Tom Stoppard, Arcadia (excerpt)

Lesson 4: Revision

Using your instructor's comments, revise your fiction exercise from Lesson 2. Be sure to attend to balancing description and economy, your writing voice, and finishing touches.

Typical reading for this lesson:
Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar (excerpt)

Lesson 5: Final Essay

Throughout this course, you have seen many examples of poetry, fiction, and plays that use scientific ideas and borrow scientific language. Discuss the particular challenges an author faces when she chooses to write a creative work on a scientific theme. In your opinion, what are some of the more successful scientific pieces we have seen in this course? What makes them successful? How have the authors of these more successful creative works overcome the challenges of writing a creative, scientific piece? Finally, examine your own work in the same manner. Which was your most successful piece, and why? Conclude with a general statement about the use of science in creative writing.

Typical readings for this lesson:
Pattiann Rogers, "The Brain Creates Itself"
Siv Cedering, "Letter from Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)"

Time Required

  • 3 hours weekly for 10-week or 12-week sessions (Fall, Winter, Spring, Early Summer)
  • 6 hours weekly during the intensive 5-week session (Late Summer)

Sample First Assignment


Technical Requirements

This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.


"I think that the classroom discussion was a very interesting idea, and I had a really fun time using this. The program's content was very good, and I had joy doing it. Thanks!"

"Very Good Class!"

"The course was fun and Ms. Y___ was very nice to all the students."

"The course was great, the instructor gave very good feedback, and the discussions were really thoughtful and fun."

"I really enjoyed this course. I learned a lot about how to put science and art together. I liked my instructor, Ms. K___. She was to the point in the course and gave us very helpful feedback."

"Amazing, very useful feedback on assessments -great reading pieces -reasonable, easy to follow schedule -challenging in a good way."

"My overall opinion of the course is that it is wonderful! It has been a complete benefit to me in every way. My writing has become clearer and fuller. I also enjoyed receiving feedback from my classmates and instructor. In that way I could focus better on both my strong and weak points. The course was great, and I hope to take another next year!"

"The course work was challenging and engaging for our son. Miss Y___ was very quick to respond to questions and concerns."

"This was a new class for my child and it took some time at the beginning to get used to the distance learning. Now he knows what to expect. I would like my younger son to take the same class."

"What a fantastic course, bringing together two subjects in a way that had our son thinking about both in a different way. The instructor was responsive and encouraging and our son really enjoyed the interactive discussion and writing workshops with his peers. Challenging readings and creative assignments provided so many opportunities for growth and learning. Our son was sad on the day he submitted his last assignment, wishing that the course would continue."

"My son believes that his strength is in science. He does have an aptitude for telling stories (in a good way), so, this course allowed him to explore that. It was challenged him to do more than average work. I appreciated Ms. U___'s comments, support and observations about the work that was submitted."

"Ms. A___ was an exceptional instructor for this course. I had the feeling she really understood my child, and she did a wonderful job of encouragement and prompting. 12 year olds are inconsistent in their motivation and understanding, Ms. A___ was understanding but firm."

"The instructor was really diligent and very sincere."

"I thought the course was very creative. It was hard for my son to complete the work because of all his other activities during the school year, but I do think that was his over-involvement. The amount of work involved in the course was fine, and it was very creative and stimulating. Overall, a great experience."