Space to Breathe

What is asthma? According to Dr. Dan Price, the answer is not a simple one. To a parent with an asthmatic child, it is a medical condition; to a public health official, a result of air pollution; and to a geneticist, a function of one’s genome. 

Asking how the problem of asthma gets framed is the goal of Dr. Price’s course this spring in The Honors College—Asthmatic Spaces: Houston/New York.

“In philosophy, we are always asking ‘What is the object of study?’” says Dr. Price. “Here we want to take this humanities question and apply it to the sciences.” The students themselves will begin to answer that question through their own semester-long research projects, which will incorporate different disciplines.

Through documentary films, presentations, posters, web sites, and other media, Dr. Price’s students will present the results of their very different research projects. While filmmakers could create short documentaries about those living with asthma, a chemical engineering student will be working with officials in the City of Houston, and others have the opportunity to research air quality with Dr. Barry Lefer in the University of Houston Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

The “New York” connection comes through the class’s web site, which combines their data with that of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

 The conversation begun in the course will continue at a conference next fall hosted by The Honors College, in which experts from several disciplines, such as public health and atmospheric science, will present their research. The goal, says Dr. Price, is to use asthma to learn how each discipline “sees” health.

The big problems of our society can only be solved once we view them correctly. And this spring, Dr. Price’s students are raising their own and others’ awareness of that process.