A Harvard University chemistry professor told me that a proposed revision of the university's science curriculum divides the sciences into "Life Sciences" and "Physical Sciences" headed by two distinct science deans, both of whom are already at Harvard. One is affiliated with the biological sciences and one with physics/engineering. Non-chemistry majors would be exposed to chemistry only through two required courses, "Life Sciences A/B" and "Physical Sciences A/B." "Perhaps you see where I am going with this - chemistry remains central but now is caught in the middle," the professor said. "My worst fear, and something that would be terrible for science, is that the chemistry department will be split apart in the future." A Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemistry professor told me that MIT's biological engineering division has hired several chemists in the past few years, one of whom is now teaching physical chemistry to biological engineering students. Apparently, the biological engineers do not think the chemistry department's p-chem course meets the needs of their students. What's more, the MIT chemistry professor said, it was not entirely surprising that a chemist interested in applying chemistry to biological questions would perceive a biological engineering program as a more welcoming home than a chemistry department. The fear is that a tradition-bound chemistry department might very well be less likely to see the work of a biophysical chemist as advancing physical chemistry (for example) - and thus less worthy of eventual tenure - than the folks over in biological engineering.
by Rudy M. Baum |
October 11, 2004