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2003 Gruber Genetics On Science Education

Prize Recipient and Advisor David Botstein on Science Education

Any budding researcher needs a foundation in several fields to be able to work on the most important problems confronting scientists today…

— David Botstein, Director, Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics

The new Integrated Introductory Science Curriculum at Princeton is intended for students considering a career in science. It is taught by faculty from five different academic departments, led by the interdisciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute, of which I am Director. By breaking down traditional disciplinary barriers, this series of courses taken in the first two years of college provides students with first-rate preparation for a major in any of the core scientific disciplines, and in such a way that helps retain the connections to the other disciplines. The curriculum is founded on the expectation that much of the most important science of the future, though based on the classical disciplines, will lie in areas that span two or more of them. The curriculum covers the core material of introductory physics, chemistry, biology (genetics and biochemistry), and computer science, all in an integrated manner. The central role of mathematics as a universal language of science is emphasized throughout. In every area of science, students learn in part through quantitative problem solving; to this end computational methods are taught and integrated into the entire program. Collaborative problem solving is stressed over memorization and regurgitation of facts. Close contact between students and faculty is a major feature of the new curriculum; class sizes are kept small.

For freshmen, the course counts as a double course (equivalent to 2 standard courses each semester) and includes a laboratory component where students do fundamental experiments using 21st century technology. For example, the students use fluorescence microscopy to follow the Brownian motion of plastic spheres and then, applying the relation derived by Einstein in 1905, they can extract a good estimate of Avogadro's number. For sophomores, the sequence continues with two standard one-semester courses. Students who have completed the sequence have gone on to major in Physics, Molecular Biology, Computer Science and Chemistry as well as a number of other majors.

Related Links:
Integrated Science Website
Lewis-Sigler Institute Website