Course: ISC231/232/233/234 (4 course sequence)
Instructor: Joshua Shaevitz, Thomas Gregor, Martin Wühr, Eric Wieschaus, Joshua Akey, Olga G. Troyanskaya
F 2019-2020 Fall and Spring

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

This course sequence aims to give a student a holistic foundation into many of the basic sciences. Namely, physics, chemistry, computer science, and molecular biology, as well as a dusting of quantum mechanics (second semester) and differential equations. More than just having a wide focus, this class is unique in that it unifies concepts of different sciences together and gives a profound, wide understanding of how these sciences are related. Usually, this class will focus on one unifying principle, most of the time some kind of mathematical model or equation, and will explore how the different sciences have been able to use this model or equation in a surprising number of ways. As an example, a mass on a spring, an RL circuit, and certain chemical reactions all have the same behaviors, unified by a single, simple equation.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

You may have noticed that there are many professors. This is because each professor has something that they excel in, and as this is a class with such wide reach, it’s to your benefit that you have the professor that knows everything about the specific topic you are covering in class that day. Though each professor has their own style, all of them are amazing people and good teachers. For the math-heavy parts, the classes largely consist of the derivations of the math that you will be using, intersected by different utilizations of this math. For the less math-heavy sections (i.e., computer science and biology) there is more of a focus on understanding concepts and their applications.

For all of the classes, you are going to want to be there. The same goes for the precepts, which are in-depth looks at what was covered in class and expansions on different applications. None of the classes are mandatory except the labs, but I cannot stress enough how much you would want to attend these classes. Though the textbook/lecture notes are good (especially in the second semester) it can’t compare to learning the material straight from the teachers. It is very hard to understand any of the topics without it being explained to you live.

Learning For and From Assignments

The homework in this course is, four times out of five, a real doozy. They take a length of time always, and they put into work what you have learned in the course. Each problem set is made to make you have a deeper understanding of the material, and it isn’t something that you can do well if you don’t already have a decent grasp of the material. In my case, I got better at understanding the material around the first semester midterm, and had just been hanging on for dear life before then with the help of my classmates. After the midterm, some things clicked and I got better at it, but there were many other students that didn’t have the same experience. Some got it right away, and some chose to leave the course because they lost hope in their ability. No matter what, you will have an abundance of help from the tutors, and with enough effort and interest you can definitely understand the material and the homework.

The labs are generally complementary to what you learn in class, and the reports take a long, long time, more so than the homework. The first report is a nightmare, but it gets easier, both objectively with the second lab and also because you get used to working at the level of the course.

To summarize the work ethic needed for this course in a word, perseverance.

External Resources

Besides the lectures and the provided lecture notes (that act as a pseudo-textbook) the course provides tutors, review sessions and highly encourages cooperation on most of the coursework. Much of the science can be found online, and there are a wide variety of resources you could find to help you if a general concept doesn’t make sense. For help on the homework, you will almost certainly need help from the tutors, TA’s and from each other. The good news is, though, that the tutors have been exceptional in my year, and the TA’s have been incredibly helpful and approachable. I believe this is a general trend, and that no matter the year, you will have exceptional people provided to help you out.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Bluntly put, this is not a class to take if you do not have a strong interest in the sciences. I absolutely recommend this course, but know that it will be challenging. You shouldn’t worry about the number of things you have learned in science thus far, because this class will summarize key fundamental concepts from other classes before using them, and it is fully possibly to fill in any foundational gaps while you are learning whatever’s giving you any trouble.

This course, for the amount that it takes from you, gives you back even more. If you can complete all four courses, more than just the 6 course requirements being fulfilled, you get such an beautiful review of every kind of science, and you get to see the wonder of how intimately related every field of science is with every other. Though it might be easier to instead take Chemistry, Mol Bio, Physics, etc. separately, you miss out on so many of the interconnections that you (generally) can’t easily discover on your own. Know that you might not go as deep as you might expect into each of the topics of Chemistry, Physics, etc., but while you might miss out on a little in this regard, I would wager to say that you learn the same skills and capacity, if not far more, that you would get in other classes. Also, while you may not be covering every topic a Chemistry class might teach you, you also learn about concepts and skills that most students would be learning in their Junior, Senior, or graduate courses.

This course fulfills most of the prerequisite courses for BSE students. STEM majors in general can find a number of their introductory-level courses being fulfilled by this class.

An Integrated, Quantitative Introduction to the Natural Sciences I

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