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Scientific Track

Program Dates

  • Fall 2024:  Sunday, Sept. 1st – Saturday, Dec. 14th
  • Spring 2025: Sunday, Jan. 19th – Saturday, May 3rd
  • Fall 2025:  Sunday, Sept. 7th – Saturday, Dec. 20th

Program Overview

We all know how hard it is for students studying science to find both the time and the right courses in a study abroad program. This is why SIS Intercultural Study Abroad created a Scientific Track to satisfy this need. Courses in natural, environmental and applied sciences, as well as select courses in math and statistics are available to students choosing this track.

Students following the SIS Semester Scientific Track begin the semester as do all SIS students. After orientation, students frequent the Three-Week Intensive Italian  Course, a 75-hour front-loaded language course that prepares students for daily life in Siena. These first three weeks of the semester are dedicated to learning Italian, exploring the territory, visiting service sites and getting to know host families.

Following the intensive language course, the scientific semester begins. Students will choose 3 science courses to take throughout the semester (with the only limitation being no more than one course with lab requirements). Accompanying students throughout their experience in Siena is the Italian Language, Culture and Reflections course.

Service is not only a pillar of SIS programs, but an enriching linguistic and cultural experience for students. Students will participate in service learning throughout their time in Siena. 

Activities and excursions complement the program’s academics, as well as two overnight trips:

  • 3-day trip within Italy – destinations change every term. Past trips have taken students to: Bologna & Modena, Genova, Rome, Venice and Verona
  • 3-day trip to Brussels, Belgium – with a visit to the European Parliament, meetings with EU NGO’s and other cultural activities.**Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the overnight trip to Brussels has been suspended until further notice, alternate activities will be provided.


Course List

Students can choose 2-3 of the following science courses (taught in English), and have the option to choose their third course from the list of semester courses (taught in Italian).

Who invented the telescope? An Italian. And who made the first controlled nuclear chain reaction? Also an Italian. How about the radio? Trick question, it might have been Nikola Tesla… or an Italian named Marconi. This course surveys the contribution several famous and not-so-famous Italian scientists have made over the past thousand years. These contributions are many, quite creative, and are expressive of some of the best features of Italian culture. They are also an excellent introduction to science for non-science majors, and a way to help science majors appreciate the breadth of human experience through relatively familiar figures. 

The course includes several lab experiments and field trips.


Spatial Archaeology is the perfect convergence point between multifocal perspective, contextual archaeology and behavioral approach. This puts Spatial Archaeology in a central position for achieving a global reconstruction of the Past. In addition, introduction of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in archaeological research trigged revolutionary effects, well-recognizable in the outstanding development both of scientific debate and of discipline theory and methods in the last decades. Perspectively, the increasingly perfect concatenation between GIS and archaeological sciences will allow to achieve new impressive (maybe still unthinkable) advances in the near future.

This is a monographic advanced course, aimed at allowing participants to practically test how archaeological research works (mainly in the field of intra-site spatial archaeology). The focus of this course is the reconstruction of Paleolithic settlement dynamics, by means of in-depth theoretical and practical exercises. Participants will approach the principles of interdisciplinary and scientific method in spatial archaeology, understanding the structure of analytical work-flow of a research in its main steps. They will get acquainted with the construction of a research issue, finding interlaced themes and methods to develop the research (e.g. classifying and gathering data, building an experimental protocol, integrating experimental and archeological data, analyzing data by statistical and geostatistical approach, comparing results with taphonomic, experimental, archaeological and ethnographical data). Moreover, a special attention will be paid to issues of “archaeological visibility” (as the main limiting factor for a correct reading of the Past), expressed as the actual overall potential and the relative error margin of an archaeological context to be correctly referred to the behavioral, social and economic structures that produced it. These themes will be also treated by means of a critical approach to cutting-edge studies (both from Research Unit of Prehistory and Anthropology of the University of Siena – Department of physical sciences, earth and Environment and from other international Research Units), recently published on international peer reviewed journals.


This course offers students the opportunity to learn the nature of the carbon element in different organic compounds. It presents general principles of organic chemistry related to structure, stereochemistry, nomenclature, synthesis, uses, and reactions of alcohols, ethers and aliphatic hydrocarbons, alkanes, alkynes, alkenes, cycloalkanes, etc.

The theoretical part will be completed by some laboratory work, where students will study organic syntheses that illustrate both theory and different laboratory technologies that are used for preparation, workup and characterization of organic compounds.

*additional lab fee required*

Statistics is very important nowadays because of the many applications in real environments. The course will begin with the study of probability and the introduction of random variables. The course will continue with the explanation of many discrete and continuous random variables with all their properties. We will see many applications within them. At the end of the course, we will study the relationship between two random variables.


Archaeology, as historical anthropology, is a discipline falling between the humanities (given the research subject) and the sciences (given the peculiar materials and methods of research). Modern interdisciplinary and contextual approaches are the outcome of the rich debate in the second half of the last century (between the ‘60s and ‘80s) and of the consequent methodological and theoretical rethinking of discipline. Simultaneously, the outstanding development of technology allowed us to reach impressive results (unthinkable only a few decades ago) and, perspectively, new advances will be achieved in the near future.

This course will introduce students to the discipline’s theoretical evolution and current approach, focusing both on multidisciplinary and interconnections between different research fields. This course will follow the main steps of theoretical and methodological evolution of archaeological thinking (e.g. New/Processual Archaeology vs Post-processualism). It will frame the main methods (e.g. survey and excavation) and “lineages” of discipline, focusing the interconnection between the different fields of research “in action” (e.g. anthropology, zooarchaeology, paleobotany, sedimentology and archaeological stratigraphy, lithic technology, pottery analysis, quantitative and spatial archaeology, excavation/survey approach, dating methods, geophysics, etc.). Moreover, special attention will be placed on specific themes of the Past, as the reconstruction of social and economic structures of societies, behaviors and production organization, mobility, exchanges, and the cognitive world. Practical activities will be also included in this course, allowing to better understand how archaeology works (e.g. reading and documentation of the stratigraphy by drawing, profiles, forms, reports and Harris’ matrix, analysis of archaeological materials, experimental archaeology). Some of the practical activities will be carried out to the Department of Earth, Environmental and Physical Sciences of University of Siena, where students will get in touch with research, and they will observe archaeological materials from the didactic collection of the Research Unit of Prehistory and Anthropology.

The course provides theoretical and practical tools for dealing with basic problems of environmental analysis. In particular, the following topics will be addressed: elements of qualitative and quantitative analytical chemistry; elements of the theory of systems far from equilibrium and complexity theory; applications for environmental analysis of classical and instrumental techniques; basic techniques for sampling and analysis of environmental matrices. Water and aqueous systems will be the focus of the course. 

The theoretical part will be coupled with laboratory work: lab activity will be planned to provide students with practical skills. Students will do simple (volumetric and instrumental) analyses in order to determine the concentration of pollutants and other elements (metals, organic matter, BOD, COD, alkalinity, etc.) in waters.

*additional lab fee required*

**General Chemistry prerequisite**


This course will introduce students to the history of human evolution and discuss the importance of archaeological records. We will proceed chronologically from our earliest human ancestors, passing through the early forms of the genus Homo, up through the anatomically modern human.  We will cover topics such as how can we reconstruct human behavior and its relationship with the environment through the analysis of prehistoric deposits. The contributions of certain scientific disciplines to archaeological studies (genetics, archaeometry, geomorphology, sedimentology, paleobotanics, zooarchaeology and so on) and methods of collecting, quantification and documentation of the archaeological finds will be described. This course will focus on the studies carried out by the Research Unit of Prehistory and Anthropology of Siena. Students enrolled in this course will be offered the possibility to visit the laboratories of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Physical Sciences of University of Siena and to carry out, together with the professor, some basic analysis on prehistoric materials coming from some Italian prehistoric sites, acquiring the analytic methodologies applied by the professor and his research team on relevant case studies.


Geology studies the history of Earth from a multidisciplinary perspective, interlacing numerous research fields, given the complexity of the Earth System.

This course proposes a synthetic overview on geology’s theories and methods, exploring some main themes (e.g. geologic time, evolution of Earth, geological history of Italy) and research fields (e.g. tectonics, petrology, pedology, sedimentology, geomorphology, paleontology). It will be highlighted how geodynamic processes shape the planet, with impressive and longstanding effects also in geographic, climatic and biological settings. Nature of minerals and rocks, evolution and transformations will be recognized. A particular attention will be paid on the relation between formational processes, environments and sedimentological structures. These data will be also correlated to evolution of life, observing the meaning of fossil proxies and contextualizing them in the broader framework of evolution of Earth.

By means of recognition and interpretation of relationships between residual traces of the Past and active structure of the Present, participants to this course will understand how the dynamic reading of geologic and geomorphologic record can help in identifying future trajectories of landscape evolution (preventing possible risks for humans) and in predicting possible localization of strategic resources.


This course aims to illustrate the main aspects of the exploitation of plants by humans, from prehistory to the modern age, and guide students through the acquisition of the basic elements of Ethnobotanics and Phytotherapy. Ethnobotany is the study of a region’s plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of a culture and people. Many ethnobotanical studies testify that this exploitation of plants by humans has ancient origins. Phytotherapy is the branch of medicine that studies the use of medicinal plants capable of producing a pharmacological effect. The World Health Organization has recently shown that about 80% of the world population uses plants as a main, if not exclusive, source of therapeutics. 

The city of Siena hosts innovative research institutes such as the seat of the National Society of Phytotherapy (S.I.Fit – Societa’ Italiana di Fitoterapia) as well as museums and academies of renowned traditions such as the Academy of Sciences (Accademia dei Fisiocritici) and the Botanical Gardens of the University of Siena. Throughout this course students will learn about the main plant-based active ingredients, as well as the methods utilized for their extraction and their effects on the human organism. Special attention will be given to the description of the common uses of plant extracts and to their examination from a scientific perspective through theoretical lessons and lab activities. Lab activities will be carried out at research or museum sites and will illustrate analytic methodologies applied by the professor and his research team through real case studies.


Calculus is a very important branch of mathematics because of the various fields in which it is applied. As you learn the techniques of calculus in this course, you will also see a variety of applications for them, and you will finally begin to experience the payoff for your years of diligent study while being told that the algebraic techniques you were learning would be applied in later mathematics courses. In calculus, we see some immediate, powerful applications. This course begins the study of the most important functions you will use in this course. It is followed by an exploration of the important concepts of limit and continuity. The major focus for this course is the concept of the derivative of a function and several applications in various fields of science.


Calculus is a very important branch of mathematics because of the various fields in which it is applied. As you learn the techniques of calculus in this course, you will also see a variety of applications for them, and you will finally begin to experience the payoff for your years of diligent study while being told that the algebraic techniques you were learning would be applied in later mathematics courses. In calculus, we see some immediate, powerful applications. The course will begin introducing the concept of the Integral of a function with several applications in many science fields. The course will continue with the study of the differential equations, ending with some other very important applications in other fields of science.


*Calculus 1 Prerequisite*


This course presents the history of some of the most significant discoveries in astronomy that can be replicated with simple tools available to any student. In so doing, concepts such as measurement of astronomical distances, mathematics applied to physical systems, the importance of observation and measurement, and celestial mechanics will be learned. The course will also address the question of extraterrestrial life.


This course is a serious introduction to physics for students who have high school algebra, geometry, and trigonometry at their fingertips, and have had, or are taking calculus. Calculus will be used in class but sparingly on exams. The algebra, geometry, and trig are absolutely essential. If some time has elapsed since your last math course, or you feel a lack of confidence in this area, you are strongly urged to study math intensively before we get too deeply into the physics course. Topics include kinematics and dynamics of particles; momentum, work, and energy; gravitation; circular, angular, and harmonic motion.


This course is an introduction to electricity and magnetism, light, electromagnetic induction; electromagnetic waves; geometrical optics; interference, and diffraction. Many concepts from General Physics I will be used in this course such as: position, velocity, acceleration, force, Newton’s laws of motion, work and energy. The course uses high school algebra, geometry and trigonometry, vectors and vector arithmetic, and some calculus.

*Physics I Prerequisite*


This course will provide the basic skills necessary for the knowledge of the different methodologies of research in prehistoric ecology and their use in a diachronic and in a multidisciplinary sense. The important natural events that occurred on Earth during the Quaternary Period will be illustrated and discussed in detail. The latter is a period of climatic upheaval, characterized by recurring ice ages, and the migration and extinction of animals and humans across the globe.  Particular attention will be dedicated to sedimentological, geological and archeobiological evidence (archeobotany and zooarcheology) that testify and describe the events of this important phase of Earth’s history. Students enrolled in this course will be offered the possibility to visit the laboratories of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Physical Sciences of the University of Siena and carry out, together with the professor, some basic analysis on archaeological and paleontological materials coming from some Italian prehistoric sites. In the final part of the course, students will use their newly acquired skills to analyze and understand the causes and the effects of today’s climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our time.


The aim of this course is to introduce students to the chemical basis of food and food processing. The most relevant staples, including milk and dairy products, eggs, grains and legumes, fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, will be analyzed, including discussion on their role in civilization and human history. Their transformation and interaction during the different cooking processes will be examined with particular emphasis on the chemical and physical process which affect food quality. Visits to local wine and cheese producers will integrate course lectures.

*additional lab fee required*

**General Chemistry Prerequisite**


Topics covered will include application layer protocols (e.g. HTTP, FTP, SMTP), transport layer protocols (UDP, TCP), network layer protocols (e.g. IP, ICMP), link layer protocols (e.g. Ethernet) and wireless protocols (e.g. IEEE 802.11). The course will also cover routing protocols such as link state and distance vector, multicast routing, and path vector protocols (e.g. BGP). The class will examine security issues such as firewalls and denial of service attacks. We will also study DNS, NAT, Web caching and CDNs, peer to peer, and protocol tunneling. Finally, we will explore security protocols (e.g. TLS, SSH, IPsec), as well as some basic cryptography necessary to understand these.


For more information about this exciting and upcoming new track, contact us at: