Instructions for Applicants

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Instructions for Applicants
Review the sample assignment, essay, and critique. Then review the Lesson 3 Final Writing Assignment. Critique the Lesson 3 FWA essay. Note how long it took you to perform the critique. Upload the critique with your application at

Sample Essay and Critique
Lesson 1 Final Writing Assignment: A Personal Encounter With Science
Now that we've studied some examples, I'd like you to begin constructing a personal essay of your own. Think back to early childhood, and write about a scientific idea or object that intrigued you so much that you were compelled to investigate it further. Draft the essay on your computer, without worrying about the techniques we've studied just yet. Bear them in mind, but don't try to force all of the devices we've studied into one early draft. You'll have a chance to revise this essay later.

Remember that all prose assignments should be around 450 words.

Essay with reviewer comments and critique at the end


Lesson 1 FWA- super cooled water
One scientific idea I found interesting was super cooled water. The concept intrigued me when I was 8 years old, but I only got around to doing research and experiments at my current age. Super cooled water is when purified water is below freezing point and has not solidified. This happens because there are no impurities in the purified water, and since ice crystals form on impurities, the water will not freeze, and thus is super cooled. Super cooled water will freeze in a matter of seconds if impurities are added to the water. This experiment drew me to explore science even more deeply, and filled me with a sense of achievement as if I had been trapped in a dusty closet for days and had finally come out.
Before I finally super cooled water, I had many failures. I felt as if I had been banging my head against a wall for days. I took bottles of the purest water and threw them in the freezer for different amounts of time first. All of my bottles came out to be frozen solid, or just cold water. Then I tried different temperatures. Still all of the bottles were freezing cold and hard as cement. Then I finally hit the perfect combo, which was room temperature water, and about three hours of cooling time. I only achieved super cooling on one bottle. When I took it out of the freezer, it wasn’t frozen, which was a good sign. Then I poured some of the water into a cup with extreme care, being careful not to knock in any impurities. Then I added a small cube of ice to the cup, and it froze almost instantly. I had super cooled water. Sadly, the rest of the bottle froze immediately after that, though I was far too happy to care about it.
That was one of the happiest moments of my life. I had been trying to supercool water for over a month now, but all my hard work eventually paid off. This was a memory I will always treasure in life, and would help me remember that hard work always pays off.

Dear Student,

I enjoyed your essay about super cooled water and was impressed by the many interesting facts you included throughout. I had never heard about this phenomenon until I read this piece—thank you for teaching me! This passage in your first paragraph did an excellent job of defining this scientific concept, especially with respect to impurities in water: “Super cooled water is when purified water is below freezing point and has not solidified. This happens because there are no impurities in the purified water, and since ice crystals form on impurities, the water will not freeze, and thus is super cooled. Super cooled water will freeze in a matter of seconds if impurities are added to the water.” Beyond these scientific facts, I think what really captivated my attention was how passionate you seemed to be about creating super cooled ice on your own. It was especially exciting to read the play-by-play account of your successful experiment in your second paragraph—well done!

For this first essay, I asked you all to talk about a scientific concept or event that intrigued you so much that you were compelled to investigate it further. We talked a lot in our discussion about the idea of something, such as Annie Dillard’s microscope or Sacks’ metals, which can actually change the course of your life by causing you to delve deeply into a new area of interest. We also talked about Dillard’s use of language and emotion; how she pulled us right into the essay by stating outright that as a child, she longed for a microscope. This sentence not only told us what the essay would be about, but also told us that this was very important to the writer.

Since you will have a chance to revise this essay later in the class, let’s look at a few areas:

1.         Your opening line

2.         Your use of detail to bring the piece alive for your readers

3.         How you ‘show’ us what you are talking about by using details

Right now your opening line is a summary of your interest in super cooled water. While that’s relevant to your essay, it doesn’t quite set the emotional tone of what follows (excitement, discovery, intrigue, triumph). How would your essay change if you began with that moment of discovery, instead of with a summary? Perhaps you could begin as you’re conducting your rigorous water freezing experiment, and then explain what super cooled water is. That would grab your reader’s attention from the first sentence. You can probably add a few more descriptive details about the actual experiment. How old were you? Can you describe the setting a bit more? What did your parents think? Can you say more about what emotions you experienced? Why do you think you were so intrigued? Also, how did you first hear about this concept? Don’t be afraid to change or even cut introductory material – oftentimes our first few lines are really just our own brains warming up to our topic, while the story itself might start a few lines in. Anyway, play a round a bit and see what you think is best.

There are a lot great scientific details in this essay. There’s room, however, for more descriptive and emotional details. In your revision, I encourage you to think about why super cooled water captivated you, what compelled you to conduct experiments on your own, etc. Try to link the scientific details to what excited you about them. Using emotional detail as well as concrete detail helps to explain the writer’s attachment to his/her concept, and brings the reader in emotionally as well. This is just another example, of course, of how incredibly important details are – each word describes, but it also instructs and sets a tone; in other words, the details control the piece.   

When you revise this piece in Lesson 4, go through this essay very slowly and carefully to find any spots where you can add more sensory details  - sound, touch, taste, smell, etc., so that we can hear, taste, feel, and smell this wonderful essay as clearly as we can see it.

I really enjoyed this essay, Student, and I look forward to seeing your revision of it in Lesson 4!



Applicants, please critique this essay.
Lesson 3 Final Writing Assignment: Metaphor and Understanding
Consider Galileo's metaphor, Russell's "What Einstein Did," and Lightman's essay, "Metaphor in Science." Write an essay on the way metaphor has increased your understanding of a scientific concept. Use material from your introductory exercise if you can.


Metaphor in science has been very helpful for me. When I was five years old, I was very interested in dinosaurs. One of my favorite metaphors was “Paleontologists brush away every piece of dirt as they uncover the layers and layers of time.” It helped me understand the complex scientific language a paleontologist would use when describing something to someone who was not familiar with the scientific language of paleontology. A metaphor turns the complex language into something quite simple and easy to understand for an outsider. This is why metaphor has been so helpful for me in paleontology.
Another way metaphor helped me in science was to understand the way the concept of putting together the dinosaur worked. The metaphor was “The ancient creature held together by sheer will and work.” This was describing a huge T-rex that scientists had painfully put together using steel, glue, plaster, and a lot of other things. It took them about three years to put together all the bones. There was a small board saying a lot of scientific jargon I didn’t understand at the time, but next to it there was a metaphor a poet had used to describe it which helped me understand how the dinosaur was put together.
The final way metaphor was helpful for me in science was to help me understand the meteor theory, which supposedly killed off all the dinosaurs.

I kept on thinking that dinosaurs just went extinct and when I heard the meteor theory I had trouble understanding it. The metaphor “ a huge ball of fire roars as it destroy everything in its path” helped me understand the theory. I just couldn’t grasp the fact that something that happens so commonly in space would wipe out all of the dinosaurs.

All in all, metaphors have been very helpful for me in science and they always will be. I appreciate the simplicity of metaphors and how helpful they can be. They can make anything difficult to understand extremely simple for anybody, and I will always appreciate that.

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