Modern Science

New interdisciplinary course trains future scientists

The lack of science majors at U.S. colleges poses a threat to the nation’s already diminishing competitive edge in world technology markets. But the hurdles to a science degree often discourage students from persevering.

The Joint Science Department of The Claremont Colleges has developed an innovative yearlong course, debuting this fall, that helps students clear those hurdles and be better prepared to tackle today’s complex science challenges.

“Global warming, nanotechnology, computer-brain interfaces, robotics, and modern medicine all require an integrated knowledge of physics, chemistry, and biology,” says Newt Copp, professor of biology and chair of the Joint Science Department, which serves Scripps, Claremont McKenna, and Pitzer. “This yearlong course will provide today’s students with the knowledge and flexibility they will need to work across these boundaries.”

Copp notes most college science students take introductory courses in each of these disciplines, typically over three years. This is too slow, and students don’t always see the connections between the disciplines. The new course replaces the three distinct courses.

“This course not only will better prepare our students, but it also will enable them to accelerate their progress into advanced science study and provide them with more flexibility in sophomore and junior years to consider studying abroad,” Copp says. Faculty in the Joint Science Department developed the course through a grant from the NSF. Thought to be the first of its kind in the nation, the course asks the question, “How do we understand nature?” from the perspectives of biologists, chemists, and physicists.

Students going on to major in biology, chemistry, physics, or any of a number of interdisciplinary fields such as biology-chemistry, neuroscience, or molecular biology, will benefit. Those students who complete both course semesters will be given preference for summer interdisciplinary research fellowships funded from the NSF grant in support of research with faculty members.