A Multi-disciplinary Lab at Princeton University
Professors: Rosemary Grant, Maitland Jones, Shirley Tilghman, and David Wilkinson
Enrollment: 30-50 students
"Origins and Beginnings" is a year-long course intended for students who may take no other science courses in college. Some fundamental ideas from physics, chemistry, molecular biology, and evolutionary biology are developed around questions associated with origins of life and origins of the human condition. The course is designed to engage students in the scientific process. During the first half of the term, students learn basic concepts and practice a few prescribed laboratory techniques. In the second half of the term, groups of two or three students do research projects chosen from a list of topics. Equipment and materials are supplied, but the students plan and execute the experiment and analyze the results, all with the guidance of an instructor. Instructors emphasize that understanding the results is more important than whether the results are "correct."
For example, the physicals chemistry term introduces students to optical and infrared spectroscopy, computer modeling of molecular structure, and some wet lab techniques used in organic chemistry. Lectures, readings, and class discussion show how these techniques are used to study the molecular and environmental bases of life. Topics for student research projects include: Spectra of Light Reflected from Planets, the Solar Spectrum, Green House Gases, Pasteur's Experiment, Polycyclic Hydrocarbons, Computer-Generated Models, Constituents of Vegetables, and Bard's Experiment (making life's molecules in a bottle). Open-ended problems are chosen so that students have an opportunity to be creative and to try their own ideas.