Physics Today article features Integrated Science Programs

The following is an exerpt from Physics Today 74, 10, 22 (2021);

The article features the iSci program as well as contribututors from the School of Interdisciplinary Scinece and Faculty of Science at McMaster University.


Undergraduate integrated science programs foster interdisciplinary and personal connections

Students and faculty thrive in programs that link the sciences; why aren’t there more of them?

Toni Feder

In the early 2000s, Derek Raine, a physicist at the UK’s University of Leicester, spearheaded a program to immerse undergraduates in physics, math, biology, and chemistry in a setting that highlights commonalities across those fields. In the ensuing years, the program has changed with political and financial winds, but key elements persist: It experiments with new teaching methods, emphasizes teamwork, and embeds communication skills.

For several decades, researchers around the world have been encouraged to forge connections across disciplines; funding agencies, for example, commonly call for joint proposals from researchers in different fields. A smattering of programs, some founded earlier than the one at Leicester, introduce that philosophy at an earlier stage in people’s education.

Several Canadian universities have embraced integrated approaches to teaching science, and a few programs exist in the US and elsewhere. Some programs last four years, such as those at Leicester; at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; and at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Others, including the Science One program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, are intensive, nearly full-time programs for first-year students only. And some, such as at Harvard and Princeton Universities, represent a smaller portion of course credit but share similar aims of teaching students to recognize and make connections across fields.

“The workforce has a need for a wider cohort with interdisciplinary skills,” says Raine, whose research has ranged from quantum field theory to biophysics. “We have to get that message across. It’s hard.”

Blood spatter. For a module on forensic science, third-year students in the McMaster University integrated science program reconstruct the angle of impact, velocity, and distance traveled by blood in a mock accident scene.- RUSS ELLIS

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