Viruses in the News

What is the science of "going viral"?

Carta Details


Viruses are unique biological entities that resemble both living and inanimate objects.  Despite their simple structure they include some of the most devastating and ubiquitous causes of human disease.  From smallpox to measles to HIV to the common cold to SARS-CoV-2, viruses have literally changed the course of human history and impacted evolution.  They have also been important experimental tools for probing the molecular nature of key biological processes, and they have been utilized in many key discoveries and Nobel Prize-winning research programs.  In books, movies, newspapers, and electronic feeds, viruses continue to make the news on a daily basis.  Using contemporary media, we will explore the essential nature of viruses, what makes them unique, how they are classified, how they cause disease, key molecular processes, breakthroughs in prevention and treatment, current efforts in trying to eradicate viruses, and cultural iconography pertaining to viruses.  In short, this seminar is intended to go viral.  Given the ongoing pandemic, this version of the course will focus on coronavirus and the development of novel vaccines.

COVID Caveats

If in-person SoCo is not possible, this course will be offered virtually. In a virtual format, experiential learning might include building models of viruses.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Robert Siegel

Professor (Teaching) of Microbiology and Immunology

Robert Siegel M.D., Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the Program in Human Biology, the Center for African Studies, and the Woods Institute for the Environment. He teaches classes on virology, Darwin, international health, photography, natural history, and Stanford, and he has won numerous teaching and advising awards including the Gores Award and the ASSU Teaching Award. He was a Stanford undergraduate (B.A. in Psychology) and earned two of his four graduate degrees at Stanford (M.A. in Education and M.D.).  He has been a frequent contributor to the news media and other public education projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Featured in San Francisco Chronicle article: Big guns fighting the coronavirus