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Mixing it up

October 2, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 40

The article about integrating multiple fields into a cohesively presented science course was quite interesting (C&EN, July 17, page 43). While I congratulate Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton Universities, other institutions are also taking much the same tack.

At Purdue University, we have developed an integrated science course that blends organic chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and physics at the sophomore level. We also go a step further in developing an entire curriculum around this model. Many recognize that the engineer of tomorrow must be able thrive in a highly interdisciplinary environment such as those espoused in "Engineer 2020."

With this in mind, Purdue has developed the multidisciplinary engineering program where many of the classes are taught in the manner of the Integrated Science course. For example, I help teach a class called "Manufacturing and Assembly" that blends risk analysis, economics, statistical control, life-cycle analysis, thermodynamics, and other topics. In every assignment, students are required to provide a recommendation on a product or process as if he or she were justifying it to a customer or boss. Another class, "Physical Properties in Engineering Systems," blends statics and dynamics with properties beyond just mechanical ones to provide cohesiveness across tensor-based properties such as modulus and dielectric constant.

All of these classes have a commitment not only to give students the knowledge to make decisions, but to strive to teach them to make connections between fields, give them the skills needed to work on multidisciplinary teams, and most important, train them to make good decisions based on all relevant data. The point is that many in science and engineering see that in today's global workforce, compartmentalizing education may not be the best teaching method for every student's career goals. As the American worker no longer has a labor advantage and is rapidly losing the educational and technological advantage, teaching workers of tomorrow to make better decisions to ensure profitability becomes even more important.

Jeffrey P. Youngblood
West Lafayette, Ind.

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