scope of this committee. The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) of the National Academies recently addressed what is needed to facilitate interdisciplinary research in general1 and other committees of the National Academies continue to conduct studies on research at particular intersections.2

There is also a tension in the education of students, which must be deep enough in traditional physics, biology, or chemistry to give identity and a strong foundation for later learning. However, that education must also be wide enough to allow an understanding of the questions and available techniques of other disciplines and to facilitate meaningful collaboration. The appropriate balance between breadth and depth is a challenge, because the time and attention given to one topic in a syllabus or curriculum necessarily restricts the time given to another topic.

Using new tools, scientists can teach themselves to think physically or chemically while learning from biological systems. Thus facilities that serve these different modes of thinking and learning are needed. In addition, industry, academia, and national laboratories bring unique strengths to the conduct and advancement of research. These strengths should be coordinated and exploited for the advancement of biomolecular materials research. All of these elements contribute to the progression from basic discovery to the development of a practical device.


To realize the opportunities in biomolecular materials research, the next generation of scientists and engineers should be taught to work at the intersection of disciplines and to build productive collaborations that span disciplinary boundaries. Institutions should take advantage of institutional strengths and needs in considering undergraduate and graduate curricula and should involve all relevant parties in these discussions. For example, departments of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, and mathematics should work cooperatively to consider and reform their programs of study. One department should not reform its own curriculum without involving colleagues from other related departments or considering the increasing interdisciplinarity of science and the interests of students. Only by involving all of the players in curriculum (and course) development can a balance be achieved between focused study and general education in the relevant scientific disciplines. Education should be (1) deep enough in traditional physics or biology or chemistry to give identity and a strong foundation for later learning and


COSEPUP, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2004.


For example, National Research Council (NRC), Mathematics and 21st Century Biology, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2005; J.C. Wooley and H.S. Lin, eds., Catalyzing Inquiry at the Interface of Computing and Biology, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2005.

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