PUBHLTH 200 & an Old Lab

PUBHLTH 200 & an Old Lab

From the Archives

When it opened on central campus in 1889, the UM Hygienic Laboratory was the first of its kind in the nation. A few years earlier, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch had shown the world "that germs were man's deadliest enemies" (in the words of a reporter for the Michigan Alumnus), and the new lab placed Michigan at the forefront of the budding science of bacteriology.

microscopeFunded by the Michigan state legislature and housed on the third floor of the West Physics Building, the lab filled a critical function for the people of Michigan. Inside its walls, scientists ran tests on water and food samples and analyzed specimens from suspected cases of consumption, diphtheria, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases. Health officers throughout the state relied on the lab's findings in their efforts to identify health problems and prevent the spread of disease. The Hygienic Laboratory was also the site of instruction in bacteriology and research into the etiology of disease.

The lab's first director, UM Professor Victor Clarence Vaughan, had traveled to Europe to learn the science of bacteriology directly from Koch, Pasteur and others. At Michigan, Vaughan offered courses in sanitation, hygiene, and bacteriology. His work was the foundation for all subsequent public health education at Michigan.

Although some of the lab's functions were transferred to Lansing in 1907, when the State Board of Health established a new public health laboratory in the capital, the Hygienic Laboratory continued to serve the instructional needs of both medical and public health students at UM and to provide research and other services for UM faculty. In 1967, the West Physics Building—site of the original Hygienic Laboratory—burned to the ground.

Syllabus: PUBHLTH 200 - Health and Society: Introduction to Public Health TTh 2:30-4, SPH II Auditorium Kenneth Warner, Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health.
Course description: Designed to give undergraduates an appreciation of the nature, breadth, and critical importance of public health to our society, this introductory-level course provides an overview of the field in its entirety. The focus is on the U.S., but there's a significant global health component as well.
On the reading list: Mary-Jane Schneider, Introduction to Public Health, 3rd ed.; miscellaneous supplementary articles; videos, including selected episodes from the recent PBS series Unnatural Causes and Rx for Survival.
Key assignments: Two five-page papers; midterm and final exams; a letter to the editor of a print or online news outlet on a contemporary public health issue in the student's community (students are encouraged to develop and submit letters for publication).
The professor says: I have been arguing for over 20 years that we should have an overview course for undergraduates, and I decided that last year, 2009, it was time to put our money where my mouth was. So I said, "What the heck, I'll do it." We had 136 students last time. It's amazing-- I thought we'd get 30 to 35. This year we've added four discussion sessions and upped it from three to four credits, and we've got over 280 students. It filled to capacity in three to four days. Sizewise, this is now the biggest class in the history of SPH. I deliver more than half the lectures, and the remainder are taught by guest lecturers in areas in which I don't have sufficient expertise. I'm really enjoying the intelligence and enthusiasm of these Michigan undergrads.

Footnote: PUBHLTH 200 was one of a dozen "Hot Classes on Campus," all of them for undergraduates, featured in the winter 2010 issue of Michigan Alumnus.