Thoughts on Education in the Pursuit of ‘Big Science’

12 11 2011

Skip Pomeroy is taking the lead on the educational efforts of CAICE and organizing seawater analysis during the Intensive Campaign.

As the Intensive data collection period finishes its second week, I am struck by the dedication of the researchers and the interdisciplinary nature of the work.  Long hours are being logged.  The range of the instrumentation and techniques, both online and offline, is quite impressive as one enters the Hydraulics Lab.  I have yet to speak to anyone that doesn’t marvel at it a bit.  The interaction between the atmospheric scientists with the physical and biological oceanographers, the algae greenhouse staff, and the undergraduates and graduate students involved in the ocean water chemical analysis indicates the necessity of an interdisciplinary approach to solve complex chemical problems.  This observation then makes me reflect on a trend in our educational system of narrowing the breadth of the curriculum.  Starting with the query, do biologists need all that math or physics, or do biochemists need all of the physical chemistry, do atmospheric chemists need all of that wet chemistry — we have started to tailor the curriculum.  I think this works for some, but when I see the breadth of knowledge brought to bear by this group, I believe that a broad fundamental education creates the foundation upon which scientific inquiries like this can be supported.  I think the students and faculty engaged in this research have to be fearless when it comes to expanding their knowledge or skill sets.  Engineering, computer programming, electronics, fabrication (machining) are just some of the skills that these workers possess or are learning, over and above their expertise in their specific disciplines and areas of instrumental expertise. I am concluding it takes a broad range of people with a broad range of talents and the ability of these groups to successfully interact and communicate that leads to success in the pursuit of big science.

Skip Pomeroy, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UC San Diego

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