Frontiers of Science has been developed over two years in consultation with scientists and other faculty, as well as with students and postdoctoral fellows, to address manifest intellectual, logistical, and pedagogical issues.
Each semester, beginning in the fall of 2003, four scientists in different disciplines (drawn from physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, biology, psychology or E3B—ecology, evolution, and environmental biology) will deliver a series of three lectures each describing the background, context, and current state of an area of cutting-edge research. The lecture subjects will include some of the great themes of modern science: the dark matter and dark energy which appear to pervade the Universe, the origins of life, the genetic code and its role in evolution, global climate change, physics and biology at the nanoscale, and the structure and function of the human brain, among others.
Seminar sections will be led by a mixture of faculty and postdoctoral teaching fellows
, and will focus on readings and supplementary activities for each lecture. To ensure that these sessions are effective in teaching scientific approaches, the discussion leaders themselves will take part in an ongoing seminar during the course, meeting with the lecturing faculty members to shape the student seminars and develop materials for discussion.
During the 2002-2003 school year we are running a pilot course of six lectures. We are intensively evaluating and adapting the course with the participation of two dozen undergraduate student volunteers, and will continue to do so over the coming year. The most important issue will be whether the course is effective for the students. We can readily monitor changes in the number of students enrolled in subsequent science courses and/or the number of majors in the years following introduction of the course. More difficult to determine will be whether understanding and enjoyment of science has increased and, if so, whether the course is determinative; we intend to develop tools to assess this aspect of impact. We believe it is possible to take our students, many of whom have had poor experiences with science in their secondary schools, and show them why science is exciting, how scientists think, and how we learn new things about the world.