Inside USD

Collaboration, Growth in SCST Sciences Produce Excitement

Monday, October 18, 2010

Greg Severn’s eyes light up and the tone of his voice elicits excitement when asked about recent developments in the Department of Physics at the University of San Diego.

“We were able to fund an interdisciplinary research program in laser spectroscopy with chemistry and marine sciences through an NSF (National Science Foundation) grant that put $200,000 of new lasers and spectroscopy equipment in an interdisciplinary research lab space,” said Severn, professor and department chair for physics. “Subsequently, we offered an interdisciplinary team-taught (chemistry and physics) honors course in laser spectroscopy. That grant and the work that has stemmed from it are good examples of the new possibilities for exciting work.”

Indeed, it’s a whole new world for physics, chemistry and biochemistry, biology, marine science and environmental studies, USD’s science programs that are based in the Donald P. Shiley Center for Science and Technology. Prior to its opening in fall 2003, the programs were scattered in different on-campus buildings and it presented many challenges. Today, an all-inclusive space gives the respective science programs more visibility and it has taken scientific research and collaboration among science faculty to a new level of academic excellence.

“When you combine the facilities and the grants we’ve secured, I can say we have the capability of being considered a valid player among other institutions,” said Ron Kaufmann, a marine science/environmental studies associate professor and director of USD’s Marine Science graduate program. “Science is about research and here it’s possible in an authentic environment.”

Michel Boudrias, associate professor and department chair of Marine Science and Environmental Studies, said the benefits include partnering on grant applications, team-teaching, hosting science-oriented events for youth, and just having close proximity for a conversation in the hallway with another science expert. “This building was set up to be one of the key hubs of the College for interdisciplinary work. We should be the model.”

It’s certainly working for physics. “We can now say we’re in the top third of the number of physics graduates per year in the country,” Severn said. “We’ve been able to attract new hires in physics with expertise in biophysics, which has given scope to our aspirations of growing in that area, both in terms of interdisciplinary research opportunities for faculty and students, but also in terms of academic programs.”

Biology has long been the science discipline of choice for new USD students. It often has the most majors of all the sciences, has led the way in research dating back to the 1970s, including being the catalyst of what’s known today as Creative Collaborations, which showcases faculty-student research work. As USD’s other science programs have evolved, Biology Department Chair Richard Gonzalez is pleased that more than 300 students are in biology this fall, including nearly 200 in preceptor classes for introduction to biology. “The interest is definitely there,” he said.

It’s there for all science programs, too, regarding undergraduate student research. Summer programs such as SURE (Student Undergraduate Research Experience) for current students and PURE (Pre-Undergraduate Research Experience) for incoming USD freshmen provide critical hands-on experience for science students. They work closely with a faculty member and, in many cases, it helps them establish a comfort level within their science major and, eventually, when considering graduate school.

The Shiley Center for Science and Technology building, which was closely planned and organized with the leadership of biology professor Sue Lowery and building manager Starla Tudor and input from other USD science faculty, provides ample lab space for each of the sciences, gives faculty the means to do better research and students have the means to do their best.

“We’re all moving in the same direction,” Gonzalez said of the burgeoning research environment among USD’s science programs. “It’s very important to all of us to have that interaction because it really benefits our students.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

The fall Sci-Mix takes place from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 20, in the Shiley Center for Science and Technology atrium. Learn about science research opportunities, as faculty and current undergraduate research students will present posters about their programs and answer questions.

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