Breakout session B:
Frontiers of Science: Adding Science to Columbia's Core Curriculum

Breakout session B
Frontiers of Science: Adding Science to Columbia's Core Curriculum

Saturday, November 8, 2003
11:15am - 12:30 pm

David J. Helfand, Chair, Department of Astronomy- Columbia University

For more than eighty years, Columbia College has used a set of required general education courses to expose its students to the great ideas of Western culture in the areas of literature, music, art and philosophy. For all of those eighty years, the single unique achievement of Western civilization - science - has been ignored in this Core Curriculum. We are currently engaged in an effort to rectify this omission by creating a Core Curriculum course Frontiers in Science. The goals are twofold: To expose students to the intellectual excitement and vitality of modern science, and to inculcate in each student scientific habits of mind -- that set of logic and quantitative reasoning skills essential to decision-making in the modern world. Each semester, four scientists from different disciplines 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 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. A web-based book focussing on scientific reasoning is being prepared. 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, 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.