HAVERFORD CHEMIST GIVES UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH PERSPECTIVE AT NATIONAL CONVENTION
Researchers, science educators, heads of private foundations, and the directors of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation recently gathered at the National Academies of Sciences in Washington, D.C., to examine“â€¦interdisciplinary research and provide findings, conclusions, and recommendations on how such research can be facilitated by funding organizations and academic institutions.”
As part of the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative, the Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy hosted a convocation on facilitating interdisciplinary research to learn about effective ways to eliminate barriers to interdisciplinary education and research.
Among those invited to participate was Haverford College Professor of Chemistry Julio de Paula the only representative from a small college, who was asked to provide information on interdisciplinary research from the perspective of an undergraduate institution.
“Interdisciplinary approaches to scientific research have become more prevalent as scientists have attempted to solve increasingly complex problems,” says de Paula.“Haverford is one of a few undergraduate institutions in the forefront of teaching science from an interdisciplinary approach.”
While much of the emphasis on interdisciplinary science is found at the graduate level, de Paula points out that Haverford students are already learning how to do research in interdisciplinary science.“ They are learning how to navigate between different science labs, and as a result,”he says,“they have shifted from research projects that are â€˜tool-oriented' to actual problem-oriented projects. They're doing cutting-edge research in cutting-edge science.”
Over the last decade as departmental appointments at Haverford have included faculty with interests in biochemistry and biophysics, the College has developed biologically oriented courses in chemistry and physics. These eventually have led to the establishment of laboratory training at the interface of physical and biological sciences at Haverford, and the creation of concentrations in biochemistry and biophysics and neural and behavioral sciences. De Paula believes that Haverford's interdisciplinary programs have been successful in large measure because“they are seeded with creative faculty, many of whom have interdisciplinary science backgrounds and a willingness to collaborate.”
In his presentation at the National Academies meeting de Paula focused on Haverford's Koshland Center for Integrated Natural Sciences, which he described as“â€¦an exportable model for interdisciplinary research and curriculum development” at other liberal arts colleges. His recommendations to the committee included funding to support faculty training and retooling in such emerging areas of interdisciplinary science as nanoscience, materials science, neuroscience, and bioinformatics.
Other issues addressed during the convocation involved questions about when to start incorporating interdisciplinary approaches into science curricula, how to retrain faculty whose own educational and research backgrounds have been in disciplinary science, and how to restructure the academy to facilitate interdisciplinary approaches.
The committee, which has also been charged to develop findings and conclusions regarding the current state of interdisciplinary research, the factors that encourage or discourage it, and ways to stimulate and support it, will issue its report later this year.