Thursday, January 27, 2011

Interdisciplinary Course To Be Offered in Fall 2011

Chemistry 597, offered in the autumn semester of 2010, is not what it appeared to be: just a chemistry research course. It is in fact a highly innovative, NSF-funded joint research course for PhD students in engineering, science, and science studies, that is, philosophy, history, and sociology of science. Building on this first offering, Chemistry 597 will be offered again in 2011-2012 and e in 2012-2013. Subtitled “Addressing Ethical Issues in the Natural Course of Research,” Chemistry 597 has other innovative features. The science studies students come from other local universities. The format consists of six seminars covering a series of topics, followed by a six week period of joint research across disciplinary boundaries. In the last week of the research period and the final three weeks of the semester, small student research groups present their research reports for critiquing by the instructors and the other students. Each student group includes at least one science or engineering student and one science studies student. The sustained critiquing is to help the students produce publishable papers.

The course is aimed to prepare students for multidisciplinary research, providing science studies students acquaintance with concrete details of scientific research and giving science and engineering students opportunities to grapple with issues, such as the range of values within science. The goal is to help students acquire a view of science, engineering, and science studies that makes the social and normative aspects of each an essential and valuable part of their understanding of their own respective disciplines and opportunities. The format of the first six seminars features lead-off presentations on the week’s readings followed by challenging discussion. After the first seminar led by the faculty, small cross-disciplinary groups of students take responsibility for the presentations and lead follow-up discussion. The readings are drawn from the writings of science studies scholars, scientists, and engineers, and the topics range from Diversity and Cooperation to Models and Causality. The faculty consists of Vivian Weil (PI), Sandra Bishnoi, and Eric Brey of IIT, philosopher of science Jordi Cat (CoPI) of Indiana University, and electrical engineer Alan Feinerman of UIC.

A final unusual feature of Chemistry 597 is an assessment of the concept, design, and implementation by an independent panel with expertise in science, engineering, and philosophy of science. Their assessment will inform the planning for the next offering. Additional details and information about applying for Chemistry 597can be obtained from Vivian Weil ( at the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions.

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