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En Route To Engineering: Nabokov, Lepidoptera, Dynamics

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.482.1 - 8.482.9

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Paper Authors

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Diana Dabby

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2793 En Route to Engineering: Nabokov, Lepidoptera, Dynamics

Diana Dabby Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering


Developed to help attract underrepresented groups, particularly women, to engineering and science, this first-year seminar introduces students to research, ‘just-in-time’ learning, and the application of their newly gained scientific knowledge to literature, as they seek answers to the question: To what extent did Nabokov’s expertise in Lepidoptera infuse his literary works? In doing so, they examine Nabokov—writer and Nabokov—lepidopterist. Students experience the rewards of speaking a scientific language and the inventiveness that can emanate from its application. In seeing how skillfully Nabokov weaves his art with his science, students may consider engineering, mathematics, and science as complementary to their life and learning aspirations, rather than as unrelated disciplines.

I. Introduction

Nabokov, Lepidoptera, Dynamics links introductory topics in science and mathematics to the humanities, specifically literature. It serves as an ‘attractor’ course for women considering engineering as a major—indeed, all of the students in last year’s seminar were women—as well as for polymaths (those students having talents and interests in both the arts and sciences). For each of these groups, the coupling of math and science with humanities-related topics broadens the appeal of the disciplines that underpin aspects of engineering practice, namely differential equations and biology.

Not only does the scientific component of the course expose more humanities-oriented students to new concepts and ways of thinking, the literature component allows engineering-focused students a window into a literary world where science still plays a role.

By combining self-teaching, research, discussion, lecture, interdisciplinary thinking, and even humor, the class targets an array of learning styles. At our new college, it has provided an early, successful test of ‘just-in-time’ learning, showing students the benefits and possibilities that ensue from grasping and applying a scientific topic to an interesting question or problem.

II. Learning Lepidoptera

Vladimir Nabokov’s passion for Lepidoptera (the order of insects encompassing butterflies and moths) results in a number of butterfly and moth families appearing in his novels—families with names like Lycaenidae, Satyridae, Nymphalidae, Pieridae, (representative of butterflies), and Sphingidae, Noctuidae, Saturniidae, and Geometridae, (representative of moths). These families

Dabby, D. (2003, June), En Route To Engineering: Nabokov, Lepidoptera, Dynamics Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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