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New Intensive Integrated Life Sciences Course Launches

Twenty-five freshmen taught by 14 instructors will undertake an intensive, year-long study of the life sciences this fall in Life Sciences 50, a new course that has now been implemented after more than a year of planning.

The course, which will serve as the academic equivalent of four individual courses, incorporates biology, chemistry, math, computing, and physics into a life sciences curriculum of more than 120 lectures, meeting for 90 minutes each weekday.

Integrated Science
Approximately 25 students attend the second lecture of Life Science 50a, the first half of an intensive two-semester, double course incorporating topics in biology, chemistry, math, computing, and physics.

“This is the class that I wish I’d had as an undergraduate,” said Andrew W. Murray, a professor of molecular genetics, adding that LS50 aims to bridge the perceived boundaries separating the various sciences to provide a comprehensive introduction to the life sciences.

“One of the things that I think is unfortunate about science education in the United States is the tendency to regard different disciplines as being entirely separate from each other, which makes it difficult for students and scientists to make connections between them,” he said.

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Along with lectures, the course includes six hours of lab each week, where students can conduct original research. According to Mary E. Wahl, a College fellow in the department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, students will be able to contribute to current projects supervised by two Bauer fellows, funded researchers at Harvard.

“[The Bauer fellows] designed a component for this course that is suitable to be done by many hands with methods that they think are pretty certain to work,” Wahl said. “They’re letting students jump in on these projects and get new results for the first time.”

Andrew W. Murray
Molecular Genetics professor Andrew W. Murray, course head of Life Science 50a, demonstrates examples of rule-based symbol transformation during the course’s second lecture.

Students cited the appeal of research experience and an exceptionally small class size as reasons to apply to the course.

“The fact that it’s such a small class with so many faculty members [is] a really good experience, especially as a freshman,” Caroline R. Desjardins-Park ’19 said. “If I were in a big class, I’d probably be scared to go talk to the teacher. I’d probably just talk to my TF.”

Following an introductory email sent out to the freshman class, 125 students applied for 25 spots in the course, according to Wahl. Students were first selected based on their math placement scores, then entered into a random lottery. Wahl said course instructors will compare the final performances of students who took LS50 and peers who took the traditional LS1a and LS1b course series to evaluate the efficacy of the new course, as applicants who do not make it into the course are likely to enroll in LS1a and LS1b.

LS50 will demand more than 14 hours a week in class time alone. Murray said the challenge of the course for both its instructors and students will be “combining the joy of discovery and the excitement of learning with the level of work that’s required.”

—Staff writer Jessica Kim can be reached at jessica.kim@thecrimson.com.

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