Science as a Liberal Art

Louis Petrich + Chester Burke

Annapolis tutor Chester Burke has spent many years teaching and shaping the laboratory program of St. John’s College, where mathematics and science are studied as liberal arts. This means that all students read the foundational texts of some of history’s greatest mathematical and scientific minds, in their historical order, while performing original observations, demonstrations, and experiments. These activities allow students to witness great scientific thinkers and experimenters provide the building blocks, old and new, for our theoretical knowledge of nature. In this episode, Burke joins host Louis Petrich for a conversation on the college’s unique approach to scientific and mathematical study. As such, it includes a standard and beloved practice at St. John’s College—a mathematical chalkboard demonstration—to accompany a dive from classical physics into the startling world of quantum mechanics. Authors touched upon include Galileo, Leibniz, Maxwell, Thompson, Schrödinger, Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, Faraday, and Descartes.

In this Episode

  • Chester Burke
    Guest Chester Burke

    Chester Burke (A74) is a tutor at St. John's College. He is currently reading the tragedies by 17th century French playwrights Corneille and Racine, who is studied in the junior language tutorial.

  • Host Louis Petrich

    Louis Petrich is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, he is exploring Euripides in freshman seminar, teaching Pascal in freshman laboratory, and leading a philosophy and theology tutorial in the Graduate Institute.

Featured Release

The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? Is war a courageous way of fulfilling human nature and, ultimately, of embracing the reality that death awaits us all? This episode, in which Annapolis host Louis Petrich and tutor Erica Beall delve into the dramatic contrasts that make Homer’s work powerful and war potentially beautiful, invites us to question our own modern perspectives on this ancient text.

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Executive Producers Welcome

Continuing the Conversation was funded through the philanthropy of donors to St. John’s College. If you’d like to give to the college’s Annual Fund, your gift will go to support the kinds of inquiry and conversation that comes to life at St. John’s College. It also frees up money for creative projects like this one, which brings great conversation and great books into homes across the world.


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