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November 30, 2016

I want to major in mad science!

Dear University of Massachusetts College of Natural Science,

In the beginning of December, the UMass student population will be perusing SPIRE for the most popular and most engaging courses. Some courses filled before sophomores were even allowed to enroll, which can be rather frustrating for people, like my neighbor, who had her heart set on Art 280, Hand Building. Unfortunately, my heart is set on a course that doesn’t even exist at UMass.

I am a science major. Specifically, I am a chemistry major. Some people major in science because they are good at math or memorization. They can be spotted a mile away with their pocket protectors and TI-83 calculators.

But I am a science major because science explains things that are intangible, perhaps just as intangible as liberty and justice. I know I am creative enough to be an English major, but I chose chemistry because it also calls for an imaginative mind. But, to my disappointment, no such classes that teach scientific creativity.

Mad science – science that employs zany and creative ideas – is a necessary discipline for any science major. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, said in his Nobel lecture in 1965, “If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions is limited

“On the off-chance that it is in another direction – a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory ,” he added,” who will find it? Only someone who has sacrificed himself by teaching himself quantum electrodynamics from a peculiar and unusual point of view – one that he may have to invent for himself.”

I am disappointed in UMass’s chemistry curriculum because it does not host classes that expand a scientist’s imagination.

Chemistry is the study of the intangible. It is the study of the particles that cannot even be seen with a microscope. The characteristics of atoms and molecules are deduced through experimentation. We can only imagine what an atom looks like. That is where imagination comes in. Sometimes, I just find myself looking up at the ceiling and wondering what a benzene molecule actually looks like.

I cherish moments when my chemistry professor strays off into more interesting aspects of chemistry, such as the philosophies of Richard Feynman. Even the best teachers in high school were the most enlightening when they digressed from the curriculum.

I will never forget how my high school physics teacher, head of the science department, gave us fetal pigs to dissect in the name of anatomical physics. Meanwhile, the biology teachers crossed their arms in jealousy. He wanted us to expand our minds and to think of physics from a biological perspective.

So why can’t the mathematics department host an elective called Mathematics in Arts, covering the famous Victorian satire “Flatland” or the surreal paintings of Salvador Dali? Why can’t the physics department host an elective discussing the paradoxes of physics?

For example, an object traveling from point A to point B must pass through an infinite number of points, so how is it even possible for it to reach point B? Why can’t the engineering department host an elective discussing the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci? Or is an engineering elective taboo?

Most importantly, if I am a science major, why am I barred from taking a scientific philosophy class? I need to take two prerequisite philosophy courses to be able to take philosophical approaches to science. Should not two classes in a science prepare me just as well?

I agree that I should have my scientific principles and equations down pat, but a huge part of being a scientist involves having the creativity to invent new ideas and principles. We need to learn how to think for ourselves. This kind of education should not wait till graduate school.

I wish with all my hearts for a “That’s funny” science course. I wish for a science course that make me proud to be a science major, not one that make me wish to be an English or philosophy major. I do not want to wait 10 years to get to the juicy stuff that Stephan Hawking spends his life poring over, despite his debilitating disease.

So what have you, College of Natural Science? Mad science can blow our minds away. I do not want a BDIC, I want a revolution. Let us learn what we have been dreaming of learning since we were toddlers watching Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Shera Demchak is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at sdemchak@student.umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “I want to major in mad science!”
  1. Ben Rudnick says:

    Shera,

    The courses you seek do exist, in the History Department. I am not sure you’ll have any luck getting the school to give you science credit for them, but Larry Owens in the History Dept., among others, teaches courses covering the history of science and technology. You should check them out.

    Ben Rudnick
    Collegian Columnist
    History Major

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