Dynamic Trio

by Anne Manicke '13


Have you ever wondered how it is possible for a gecko to climb onto the ceiling and stay there? Seems like a good question for a biology course in the Joint Science Department.

The answer, however, involves one of the weakest forces known in the interaction of molecules, and so has to do with much more than just basic principles of biology. For this reason, the gecko question is a perfect example of what is dealt with in Scripps’ Accelerated Integrated Science Sequence (AISS).

AISS is a cutting-edge, yearlong course designed to combine and integrate all of the principles that students would otherwise learn in separate, semester-long introductory courses to biology, chemistry, and physics. Professors Newt Copp, Kersey Black, and Scot Gould specialize in these subjects, respectively, and work together to teach the class.

While other colleges and universities have created courses that integrate different types of sciences, no other school has a course comparable to AISS in its breadth across all three major scientific disciplines. “It is the only course in the country that links these three,” says Gould.

As interdisciplinary work and thinking is becoming increasingly more prominent in all science, AISS becomes increasingly relevant, according to Copp. Scientific interdisciplinary work also reaches far beyond the realm of science itself. Much global problem solving has a scientific component, which requires the use of chemistry, biology, and physics in combination. First-year student Sherilyn Tamagawa says that though she is pursuing a major in math and not science, AISS’s “holistic approach to science will help me continue to understand concepts better, and it will definitely help me to pursue both my science and non-science endeavors throughout college.”

As a single integrated “double course” of two semesters, AISS accelerates students’ progress through a science major and prepares them to move into advanced science courses earlier than if they had taken the separate introductory courses. Another benefit of completing two semesters of the course is that these students are given preference for NSF interdisciplinary research fellowships that support research with faculty members during the summer. Arranging study abroad opportunities is also easier for science majors who take this course because they have more flexibility in their schedule during the sophomore and junior years.

Copp believes the way that these students learn in this course is going to represent a significant break with anything they’ve heard in high school. He says that an “adjustment of perspective” is important to keep students from falling back into their comfortable ways of thinking.

“We’re trying to develop within students a new sense of what it means to explain something about nature,” says Copp. A student in AISS will not simply be able to rely on the rules of thumb in biology, but instead, “She is going to be asked to draw upon biology, chemistry, and physics pretty much all the time in what we hope will be deeper and richer explanations than are typically encouraged in science courses.”

Copp remarks that the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have expressed a need for a more interdisciplinary perspective among physicians. These interdisciplinary studies should, ideally, begin at an undergraduate level, which is where Scripps comes in. Kiley Lawrence, a first year at Scripps, points out that “there is a big push in medical schools to accept people who have studied in an integrated way,” and adds that the AISS course at Scripps was “a pretty big deciding factor” when it came time to choose which school to attend.

AISS is taught five days a week by three professors, each focused on his own particular discipline. “If one professor is discussing a topic, the others will say ‘watch this concept, we’ll come back to it later,’ or ‘watch this concept, it’s related to something else,'” says Gould. AISS helps students not only understand the ways in which biology, chemistry, and physics are connected, but how this understanding can solve problems and serve society. For instance, the science behind a gecko’s ability to stand on the ceiling is the same integrated science that is now used in creating bandages for burn victims.

And, as Kelsey Mesa ’12 puts it, “You really can’t fully understand one [science] without the others.”


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