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A soiled shirt and some grain: these are the ingredients needed to make mice spontaneously appear. At least, that's what some people used to think… …

A soiled shirt and some grain: these are the ingredients needed to make mice spontaneously appear. At least, that's what some people used to think…

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  • 1. STUDENT MATERIALS How did life begin? For centuries many people believed in an idea called spontaneous generation, the idea that life could “spontaneously” appear from nothing. Why did many people believe this explanation for the origins of life? Read the following statements about spontaneous generation: • “If a soiled shirt is placed in the opening of a vessel containing grains of wheat, the reaction of the leaven in the shirt with fumes from the wheat will, after approximately twenty-one days, transform the wheat into mice.” (Source of Louis Pasteur’s description of an experiment of Jan Baptista van Helmont.: An Address delivered by Louis Pasteur at the “Sorbonne Scientific Soirée” on April 7, 1864. Accessed 15 May 2013. https://eee.uci. edu/clients/bjbecker/NatureandArtifice/week7f.html.) • “Pieces of cheese and bread wrapped in rags and left in a dark corner…produce mice… because after several weeks, there were mice in the rags.” (Source: “Spontaneous Generation. Dictionary.com. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc... Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Accessed: May 15, 2013. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spontaneous generation.) • “Mold seems to grow spontaneously on bread, maggots appear as if by magic in old meat, and every spring new plants sprout and grow….” (Source: Robert Hazen, Genesis [Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2005] 83.) BIG HISTORY PROJECT / LESSON 5.2 SPONTANEOUS GENERATION
  • 2. STUDENT MATERIALS Think about each of the statements and answer these questions: 1. Why do you think the scientists who studied these examples believed that life had “spontaneously” appeared? 2. Why do you think these scientists believed that their conclusions were based on sound scientific methods? 3. What do you think was wrong with the scientific methods they used? What do you think is the actual scientific explanation for each of these cases? BIG HISTORY PROJECT / LESSON 5.2 SPONTANEOUS GENERATION
  • 3. STUDENT MATERIALS BIG HISTORY PROJECT / LESSON 5.2 SPONTANEOUS GENERATION: STATEMENT ONE If a soiled shirt is placed in the opening of a vessel containing grains of wheat, the reaction of the leaven in the shirt with fumes from the wheat will, after approximately twenty-one days, transform the wheat into mice. Source of Louis Pasteur’s description of an experiment of Jan Baptista van Helmont.: An Address delivered by Louis Pasteur at the “Sorbonne Scientific Soirée” on April 7, 1864. Accessed 15 May 2013. https://eee.uci.edu/clients/bjbecker/NatureandArtifice/week7f.html.
  • 4. STUDENT MATERIALS BIG HISTORY PROJECT / LESSON 5.2 SPONTANEOUS GENERATION: STATEMENT TWO Pieces of cheese and bread wrapped in rags and left in a dark corner… produce mice…because after several weeks, there were mice in the rags. Source: “Spontaneous Generation. Dictionary.com. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Accessed: May 15, 2013. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spontaneous generation.
  • 5. STUDENT MATERIALS BIG HISTORY PROJECT / LESSON 5.2 SPONTANEOUS GENERATION: STATEMENT THREE Mold seems to grow spontaneously on bread, maggots appear as if by magic in old meat, and every spring new plants sprout and grow…. Source: Robert Hazen, Genesis (Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2005) 83.
  • 6. STUDENT MATERIALS BIG HISTORY PROJECT / LESSON 5.2 SPONTANEOUS GENERATION QUESTIONS 1. Why did the scientists who studied these cases think that life had “spontaneously” appeared? 2. Why did these scientists think their conclusions were based on sound scientific methods? 3. What was wrong with the scientific methods they used? 4. What do you think is the scientific explanation of life in each of these cases?