Frontiers of Science


Welcome to Frontiers of Science!

For more than eighty years, Columbia College has sustained an extensive Core Curriculum, required of all students, which serves as an intensive introduction to the great ideas of western literature, art, music, and philosophy. In the University's 250th year, we launched a complementary course in science: Frontiers of Science.

The course is designed both to introduce students to exciting ideas at the forefront of scientific research, as well as to inculcate in them the habits of mind common to a scientific approach to the world. Each semester, four scientists in different disciplines deliver a series of three lectures each describing the background, context, and current state of an area of research; readings and other activities supplement the lectures. Consistent with the Core tradition, the course also includes small seminar sections in which these topics are discussed by students.

Intellectual Structure of the Course

This course is not content driven. Instead, it attempts to outline the kinds of approaches that scientists take to answer interesting problems in the natural world. The topics selected, scientific disciplines and faculty may vary from one semester to another. However, we have been moving towards a model in which more or less the same modules are offered in both Fall and Spring semesters of any given academic year.

To achieve our goals, the habits of mind around which the course is constructed are summarized in a series of short tutorials available in pdf format. A longer web-based text ("Scientific Habits of Mind") is also available. Together, these documents provide a framework that unites lectures, seminars, reading assignments and homework.

Frontiers and the Core Curriculum

For more than 80 years, the heart of the undergraduate experience at Columbia College has been its Core Curriculum, a set of courses that introduces every student to the great ideas of Western literature, art, music, history, and philosophy. For many, the Core, which constitutes a substantial portion of your coursework in your first two years of study, is a defining experience. All Columbia students share and can discuss a common set of works and themes drawn from the central ideas of Western culture. Yet following its adoption, the Core Curriculum long neglected an essential contribution of Western civilization: Science.

Emerging from the Renaissance as an original, creative, and profoundly powerful approach to the natural world, modern science has provided us with a fundamentally new view of the Universe. Beginning in the University's 250th year, we introduced all Columbia undergraduates to the study of this new view, and the modes of thought that lead to it, by instituting "Frontiers of Science."


The Faculty of Frontiers in Science, 2014-2015:

Travis Bain
Klejda Bega
Nicholas Christie-Blick
Ivana Hughes
Darcy Kelley
Janna Levin
Jerry McManus
Don Melnick
William Menke
Paul Olsen
Terry Plank

Science Fellows

Imre Bartos
Katherine Brooks
Amber Carr
Taffeta Elliott
Rachel Kennedy-Smith
Alexander Lloyd
Paolomi Merchant
Monica Rouco Molina
Shaena Montanari
Ethan Peck
Eric Raymer
Abigail Sporer
Helena Uthas