sented at various times during undergraduate study. The courses could be distinguished by purpose and the number of prerequisites.

At one end of the spectrum could be a truly interdisciplinary course used as an introductory first-year seminar with relatively few details and no prerequisites. It could serve as a “whet the appetite” course to introduce students to many disciplines in their first year, and to hold the interest of first-year students who are taking disciplinary prerequisites prior to starting courses in biological sciences. This course could have a single theme; an example of a first-year seminar on plagues that draws on different disciplines is described in Case Study #11. An alternative format could feature a series of faculty or guest speakers who present case studies on a wide range of topics exemplified by genomics, environmental science, infectious disease epidemiology, medical statistics, computational biology, mathematical biology, toxicology, and risk assessment. Such a course would serve a dual role: biology students would see that mathematics and computation play an important role in their future work, and mathematics and computer science students would get a taste of how quantitative methods (statistics, applied mathematics, computer science) can be fruitfully applied in biology and medicine.

At the other end of the spectrum could be a capstone course for seniors with substantial educational experience in multiple disciplines. With extensive prerequisites in these disciplines, an interdisciplinary course organized around a topic could be presented at an advanced level. On the Mechanics of Organisms, an upper-level course at the University of California at Berkeley, effectively brings biology and engineering together (Case Study #5). Engineering principles pertinent to particular biological processes are presented first, followed by their place in biology. This is only one example, and many other upper-level courses can be imagined that would vividly illustrate the interplay of biology with the physical and mathematical sciences and engineering, such as Three-dimensional Structure Determination (x-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy), Sensory Signaling Systems (vision, smell, taste, hearing, and touch), Biological Imaging (fluorescence microscopy, confocal imaging, evanescent wave microscopy, two-photon imaging), and Medical Imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, ultrasound).

At intermediate levels, a variety of course plans could incorporate material from the physical sciences, and the mathematical concepts and skills that subtend these disciplines, into biological courses. Possible examples are a course in quantitative physiology (blood circulation, gas exchange in the

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement