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Biology majors Darrylynn Nelson and Elizabeth Adeyemi, of Spelman College, evaluate the role of a gene in yeast (left); Harvey Mudd College students Jay Markello and Marissa Quitt ask a question of professor Eliot Bush in a new biology class called Computational Approaches to the Genome (right).
“The undergraduate years are vital to attracting and retaining students who will be the future of science,” HHMI President Thomas R. Cech says. “We want students to experience science as the creative, challenging, and rewarding endeavor that it is.”
Much of that excitement still comes from hands-on research, and schools are taking different approaches to bringing research to students. Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania has joined forces with a clinic where children from Amish and Mennonite communities are treated for inherited metabolic disorders. A few dozen students will work at the clinic to mine the wealth of genetic information that has been gathered from children with these diseases.
Barnard College in New York will integrate research into classes by focusing on the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta, a pest that attacks tomatoes and potatoes. The classes will probe the worm's sense of smell and taste with experiments examining and altering its behavior and genetics, which have never before been fully examined. “This will enable our students to do cutting edge research in a lab class context,” says Paul E. Hertz, Barnard's program director.
The colleges also want to prepare students for the science of the future—which is likely to be more wide-ranging and quantitative. Some will add modern techniques or interdisciplinary classes to their traditional curriculum, while others will redesign their biological science majors.
The theme for many of the biology departments could be “More Math!” Several schools will require more math and computer science as part of their regular biology curriculum. Harvey Mudd College in California is combining its introductory biology and computer science classes into one year-long course. And Carleton College in Minnesota is bringing computer modeling and math into all its science disciplines.
Photos: Nathan Bolster, Kevin Mapp / Harvey Mudd College