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100 frosh register for pilot course

By Aileen Lee

This fall an experimental course integrating the principles of chemistry, material science and biology is being offered for the first time. Proposed by the Science-Engineering Working Group last spring, this pilot subject is the first step by the faculty to incorporate biology into the Institute science requirement.

The class, Chemistry, Materials Science, and Biology (SP01), is the first part of a two-semester sequence, and will be taught by professors from the three departments involved -- Robert J. Silbey (Chemistry), Ronald M. Latanision (Materials Science and Engineering), and Vernon M. Ingram (Biology). There will be three lectures per week, and recitations will be taught by teaching assistants from each participating department.

The first semester will consist largely of an amalgamation of concepts from 3.091 and 5.11 with some strands of biology inserted, according to Silbey. "When we talk about molecular structure, this will lead to an understanding of the structure of proteins; when we talk about thermodynamics and reaction rates, this leads to enzyme kinetics, for example," he explained.

The amount of biology discussed in the course will gradually increase, and the spring term class, SP02, will largely focus on the biology of the cell.

The Schools of Engineering and Science initially conceived of an integrated two-term sequence as a way to incorporate biology into the science core. The pilot class, which was debated by the faculty last spring, was met by objections from members of each of the three departments. Some faculty felt the subject would present only a watered-down survey of the three subjects without examining enough topics in-depth. At April's faculty meeting members of both the biology and chemistry departments said they planned to come up with their own alternatives to SP01.

According to Chemistry Department head Mark Wrighton, while this two-semester course presents a challenge to its teaching staff, the staff will be able to meet that challenge. "The three departments will be regularly monitoring feedback form SP01 faculty and students to evaluate the course's ability to cover the material thoroughly and efficiently," he said.

"Over 100 students have indicated an interest in SP01, giving us a good number to work with," he added. Professors Hartley Rogers and Hermann Haus ScD '54, who represent the committee formed by the deans of science and engineering, will also be sitting in on the class to monitor its organization and effectiveness.

"Because of the complexity of SP01's logistics, we are anxious to see how the students respond to its ability to teach the material," Wrighton added. "We hope that the students complete the course with the feeling that they got what they expected, and that they are confident they have had a good experience."